Mapping things

by Lisa Mol

This week has seen a flurry of map-related advances. The BBC reported today that Facebook intern Paul Butler has managed to map a substantial part of social connections through the locations of Facebook users. The map shows a very interesting correlation between population density, internet access and the absence or presence of political internet censure. Unsurprisingly, Europe and North America are intense users of Facebook and there is a substantial amount social traffic between these two continents. However, the other striking correlation is between Spain and the Spanish speaking countries of South America. To what extent could migration patterns be responsible for this type of pattern? Unfortunately the map is a little too lacking in detail to find this out, but it would be a rather interesting study.

In addition, the New York Times published a new interactive map which tells you the distribution of ethnic and racial groups of every block in every city in the USA. There is still a clear ethnic divide in many cities between the neighbourhoods, some of which live up to the name of the neighbourhood. China town in Boston for example, is entirely labelled ‘Asian’. However, it does also show that there is still a clear segregation within New York City, for example, especially in Manhattan where the segregation is astonishing.

On the other side of the spectrum, geophysicists at the University of New South Wales have made good progress with mapping the transport of air packets around the poles, arguably the most vulnerable areas for ozone depletion and pollution accumulation.

Even though all these mapping stories may seem entirely unrelated, they all tell us aspects of one fundamental thing: how are we connected to the dynamic space around us? How can maps help us understand our behaviour and the consequences for our environment? Studies like these show us that we should not just focus on a snapshot but that capturing the dynamic interaction and changes is far more important. Geography as a discipline is continually looking for novel ways to interpret the way humans influence their environment. Progress in map making and specifically dynamic maps like the case studies shown above are important markers in our continuous quest for this understanding. We have come a long way since the oldest, rather beautiful, map found in a cave in Abauntz and at this rate the limit is well beyond the sky!

BBC News ” Facebook connections map the world” 14/12/2010

New York Times “Mapping America: Every city, every block

ScienceDaily “Using chaos to model geophysical phenomena” 8/12/2010

The Telegraph “World’s oldest map: Spanish cave has landscape from 14,000 years ago” 6/8/2009

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