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I’m a New Radical

Holding some old maps

The Observer, a British Sunday newspaper and sister to The Guardian, has a very kind article about me and the ubiquitous OpenStreetMap today.

The photo shoot was the most fun. I’ve worked with Kaela at the excellent Serendipity before. On fairly short notice we found a second hand book store in Duval and bought up a dozen or so old paper maps for something like a dime each. Then we had some fun taking pictures outside in the rain and ruining each map before going inside and taking the picture you see.

My doctor’s wife goaded me to agree with her recently that paper maps from the ’60s are not worth a whole lot to kids doing school projects. Her better half had apparently donated several in such a cause.

It made me think about how people of my generation began to use scientific calculators extensively at school and could skip the fundamental knowledge of solving quadratic equations. Just as a generation earlier multiplying large numbers was expedited by simpler hand-held calculators. Later on, I was lucky enough to work at Wolfram Research as an intern before university and had ready access to Mathematica. That’s like giving toddlers access to thermonuclear weapons. Perhaps a relevant analogy would be giving 10 year-old primary school students in England access to various computational equipment from Bletchley Park in 1943.

Presumably computational algebra systems will trickle down to high school and then elementary school students with time just as the other technologies did.

Thus too with maps?

It’s already happened, admittedly to the ready dismay of cartographers everywhere. This makes me think of, randomly, the market share over time of mobile phone operating systems:

The graph works well as an analogy for any technical displacement over time. I’d be curious to see one for the use of various types of maps over time. Broadly paper was dominant for about 2,000 years and then the PND took, at a guess, half the market share within a decade or two. Shortly after that the internet arrived and with it MapQuest and MultiMap. In the blink of an eye Google took the eyeballs – but not the profit – from them.

With a bit of luck perhaps the next phase will be dominated by a more enlightened and open approach.

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