Sunday, 21 October 2012

Walking the Landscape and Mapping Springs

Well, we all need Wikipedia, sometimes, I suppose, when we move out of our comfort zones, as I do today when I begin to muse upon our spring-quest and its depiction by map. The font of all knowledge says that “A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes. Many maps are static two-dimensional, geometrically accurate,” or almost accurate, “representations of three-dimensional space, while others are dynamic or interactive, even three-dimensional.” The article then goes on to speak of scale, ratio, projection etc. and the usual distinction between “political” and “physical” maps.
Why did I look this up today, the 29th August 2012? Well, partly because it’s pouring down again and I can’t face getting soaked again, but also because of a splendid article in the Guardian which touches upon our spring-quest. Oliver Burkeman wrote about Google Earth - “inspired by zooming satellite images in TV war reports” - and how Google continually adds new data to its maps (“in June it was 2,000 miles of canal towpaths…in July it was bike lanes”). This constant process could, of course, add data from the movement of individuals…No wonder “cartographic historian”, Jerry Brotton  thinks that the switch to digital mapping is an even “more profound change” than the Renaissance manuscript to print revolution.
Now, seemingly surreal invention is at one’s fingertips: Alice in Wonderland one to one scale is possible, as are cartographic mash-ups, as is the seeming impossibility of getting lost. One of the most ubiquitous sights of recent years is the traveller consulting a smartphone and resolutely, if mutely, going on their way. No more “Excuse me. I’m lost. Could you help me find…” Burkeman points out, however, that “In a world of GPS-enabled smartphones” whilst you are consulting a map, Google and Apple are mapping you. Martin Dodge from Manchester University says that products that might appear to be “innocent and neutral” are actually “vacuuming up all sorts of behavioural and attitudinal data.”
The article concludes with cartography curator, Lucy Fellowes’ famous statement that “Every map is someone’s way of getting you to look at the world his or her way” and the implications of viewing the world through the lens of Californian capitalism rather than through Alice’s Looking Glass: a world of mercenary, Gradgrindian logic, no matter how cool the employees dress. So this is where we come in with the spring-quest.
Our map making will reclaim Lewis Carroll from Google and we will walk hand in hand with History, Philosophy, Geology, Literature, Logic, Mythology and Pyschogeography. We may not go down the rabbit-hole but we will certainly peer into the depths of our springs and map the genius loci of Stroud and the Five Valleys. Our maps will be collaborative, shared and Blakean in their envisioning of the fusion of Space and Time, past, present and future. Who knows? We might even meet the Green Man. And s/he might even tell us how to name unnamed springs and so change Google Earth. As the Paris Situationists used to say: “Underneath the pavements, the beach!”

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