Monday, March 02, 2009

Social Mapping by GPS

Daniel Little ponders some of the possibilities of what he calls GPS-based "mobile social mapping."
...This would function as a sort of “social reality meter” that would render more visible the social realities and human inequalities we traverse as we travel.

Such a device is entirely possible. It would require a spatially coded social data base, including characteristics such as infant mortality, high school completion, poverty, crime, single-parent families, home ownership, property values, and as many other characteristics as we might be interested in. These features would be attached to a geographical location (a census tract, for example, with a boundary file), and the map would dynamically display several selected variables as we travel through the region.

It's an interesting idea and probably just around the corner as are interactive maps of all sorts.

This global map I've been considering developing, a certain kind of climate change map which would likely use something like GoogleEarth as a basic platform, could potentially change international dynamics regarding emissions measurements, responsibilities, formal obligations, and efforts on all sorts of levels. I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that an instrument like this has the potential to change political and economic systems. I won't go into that much further because I'm still mulling the idea....

But GPS social mapping, a dynamic global climate map, and the like have potentially huge ramifications - negative and positive - beyond how we've ever thought of maps and even in terms of how we think of ourselves. GoogleEarth and personal GPS systems have already shown this to some extent. The potential for inverse influence - the influence of the tool's use on its users - is even greater as the information input becomes more complex, integrating social media tools like Facebook.

Little suggests that, with a social mapping device, we might develop a “location-based social awareness” regarding injustices, poverty, crime, and so on around us. But I think we would probably have to be prepared already to perceive injustices. We would have to already see ourselves as holding certain kinds of values that make us sensitive to injustices in order to use the tool in this way.

Many, of course, would use the tool to know which areas to avoid, and the possible resulting segregation could further entrench poverty, for example. When World Bank and IMF employees would first arrive in Washington DC, they used to be told (and still might be), "don't go past 16th Street" when looking for a place to live or going out on the town. 16th Street is that vertical line in the DC map above that runs through the 5 in "5.0." It's the imaginary line of real economic and racial segregation in DC, even if there are pockets of contrasting neighborhoods throughout.

A social mapping tool would likely lead many to avoid the "accidents" of setting foot in socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. In other words, it could facilitate the conversion of prior biases and fears into action.

On another note, I wonder if this kind of map, which I find fascinating despite its anachronism, might find a home in GPS social mapping. Maybe such information is irrelevant today.

1 comment:

MT said...

You'd engage a lot more constituents if you could give each zone it's own sports franchise. Then you just schedule the winners from the Unemployed, Imprisoned and other divisions to hold the playoffs and Super Bowl a little before election time.