003 - The 'Perfect' Map

Debatable Question

To what extent are modern maps more accurate and hold less bias than old maps?

Key Terminology

No new key terminology will be introduced during this lesson.

Activity One

There has always been a never ending quest to create the so called 'perfect' map but what that actually means can be very dependent on who created the map, who sponsored the development of the map and who is interpreting the map. Everyone comes with their own sense of bias, prejudice, expectations and culture. As a geographer I am always looking for the 'best' representation of the planet today and the ability to be able to manipulate a map to illustrate a data point. Which map I choose and where I get the data from is automatically influenced by my own English culture and educational experiences, despite how objective I try and be. For instance I very rarely use a map in a lesson that doesn't have England centred in the middle therefore distorting distances as well as presenting a front on what a 'normal' map should look like. I think technology has helped to enhance how we interact with data and how it can represented on a map but I perhaps don't consider the omnipresent dominance of Google. We are going to have a look at a variety of views that people have concerning the creation of modern maps and the alternative views we can have of the globe.

      1. From what you have learnt so far, how have maps changed over time?
      2. Make a copy of the Google Doc below.
      3. Interrogate Source 3 by using OPCVL - Origin, Purpose, Content, Value and Limitations.
      4. Jerry Brotton seems to be anti Google Maps, how does Google Maps make money for Google?
      5. Read Article Two in the 'Useful Resources' box and make notes on why Google Maps is popular with both the public and businesses.
      6. Read Articles Three and Four in the 'Useful Resources' box and create a summary of places that may not be mapped or may be viewed differently depending on location within Google Maps.
      7. As maps have become more detailed, accurate and technological what issues have now been created from this progress?
Interrogating Sources

Sources 3

Source Three

Aside from the age-old conventions still used in today's world maps, one could argue that thanks to new technologies and the vast amounts of data they allow us to access, we have at least entered a new era of cartography since the height of colonialism. Maps are no longer mere symbols of dominion drawn up by conquerors; Africa is no longer mostly terra incognita; and one could make the case that maps now belong to everyone.

At the heart of this is the rise of Google Maps, which has come to dominate cartography today, both in terms of resources and popularity. Billions of searches are made through Google each day, and Google Maps is by far the most widely used smartphone app in the world. Thanks to Google's access to masses of data from satellites, aircrafts and camera-fitted cars, users can see aerial photographs and street maps of virtually the entire planet.

Google Maps claims to be on a "never-ending quest for the perfect map", and one might hope that with the creaking weight of information now available, the goal of a truly accurate and truly objective map may finally be within reach.

Jerry Brotton, historian of cartography and the author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps, however, warns against such notions.

"Mapmakers have always claimed objectivity," he says, "and cartographers always imagine they're creating maps from some omniscient God-like position. When it comes to Google Maps, however, the reality is that they're being produced on the west coast of America."

According to Brotton, that fact necessarily affects how they are made. All maps, he argues, are of their time, of their place, and serve certain purposes. Medieval mapmakers wanted to chart their orientation to the Garden of Eden or Mecca; Mercator wanted to make things easier for sea-faring navigators; and colonialists wanted to plot the extents of their empires.

Today, Google has its own partialities and purposes in creating huge maps of the world, and Brotton believes that these motivations lie in Google's corporate goals.

"For me, it seems clear that Google Maps are driven by commercial multinational profitability," he says. "They are ultimately driven by the prospects of advertising revenue."

Indeed, Google relies on advertising for almost the entirety of its nearly $60 billions annual income. One way to think of the business model is that its massive advertising revenue allows it to offer its services free of charge. But another way is that the near monopoly the company achieves by providing its ubiquitous services for free gives it the dominance necessary to generate those ad dollars in the first place. Google's corporate motto may be “Don't Be Evil”, but its bottom line is still “Make A Profit”.

It is arguably this reality that has led Google to spend massive sums of money on developing Google Maps, but which also affects what is put in and what is left off its maps.

"It is telling that some townships in South Africa are just blank spaces on the map," says Brotton. "Mapping is becoming privatised, not even states have the vast resources necessary to compete, and inevitably the usual problem is that Africa comes very low down on the pecking order."

Activity Two - Definitions

Part of this IDU is to challenge perceptions and ideas that you may bring to the class. Answer the following question by using Source 5.

      1. How far do you agree with the definition of cartography in Source Five?
                    • What do you like about it?
                    • What do you believe is missing?
                    • What would you change the definition to?

Source 5

Cartography, the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area, usually on a flat surface such as a map or chart; it may involve the superimposition of political, cultural, or other nongeographical divisions onto the representation of a geographical area. […] Cartography is an ancient discipline that dates from the prehistoric depiction of hunting and fishing territories.

Source: www.britannica.com