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Inf@Vis!

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Martin Dodge on CyberGeography
by entrevista Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 98]

Martin Dodge, the creator of the well known web site “Atlas of Cyberspaces”, answers our questions about Cybergeography, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and the possible impact of these disciplines on everyday life.

AtlasCyberspace.jpg (44469 bytes)
Cover of the book "Atlas of Cyberspace" by Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin.

Martin Dodge is a researcher at CASA (Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis) at the University College of London. His background lies in the Geographic Information Systems and his research interest on the exploration of the geographies of Internet led him to build the outstanding web site Atlas of Cyberspaces

Jointly with Rob Kitchin he has co-authored two important books in this field: “Mapping Cyberspace” and “Atlas of Cyberspace”, the tangible expression of the online counterpart . He is also interested in the social applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

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What is Cybergeography and why did you build the "Atlas of Cyberspaces" web site?

M. Dodge:  

Cybergeography is a somewhat bogus term I use to describe research on the geography of the Internet and the Web. I did not coin the term, but I think it nicely describes what I am interested in - the geographical analysis of Internet infrastructure and usage and the spatialization and mapping of online spaces

I am a geographer and I think the geography of cyberspace is an interesting way to approach research on the Internet to counter the notions that cyberspace is a spaceless space. I began to focus more on the idea of cybergeography in 1997 when I decided to use it as the base for my website (this naming was partially inspired by TeleGeography company started by Greg Staple in the early 1990s).

In terms of the Atlas, it just evolved and seemed like a good idea. As I was searching for information on the geography of the Internet I was coming across interesting maps and visualisation and started saving them. I started off collecting geographic maps of Internet infrastructure mostly. After a while I decided to put a web page up showing some of the most interesting maps and it grew from there. 

The positive feedback I have received from a range of different people encouraged me to expand the size and scope of the Atlas. Also, my research interests expanded to cover all kinds of abstract visualisations of information and social interactions.

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Is Cyberspace so different to the “real” world we live in?

M. Dodge

Clearly the spatial properties of much of the spaces of cyberspace we know and use today can appear to be quite different from the 'real-real' world. 

After all they are spaces that are socially constructed and mediated through the screen so they are distinct from much of the rest of daily life. These spaces are really just made of software code so they take various spatial forms according to the programmers wishes and talents. 

But on another level I don't think cyberspace should be considered as vastly 'different' from the real-real world. In terms of how people use cyberspace and how cyberspace becomes meshed into our daily transactions I don't think it is perceived as so different.

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Creating a map is more a process of communicating data rather than revealing it. Throughout History, maps have been used to convey subtle ideological messages, often unconsciously, other times purposely. Is Gybergeography different in this sense, i.e. more or less prone to manipulation?.

M. Dodge

The History of cartography is very dishonourable in many respects! Maps can be read in terms of expressions of power and control, rather than as simple objects for communicating geographical information. 

Maps are inherently partial and selective in their representation and they inevitably serve the interests of people who make them. The ideological reading of maps equally well applies to the most sophisticated information visualisations today as to renaissance maps of the discoveries in the new world

The ways that maps (all maps) deceive and distort 'reality' is well illustrated in Mark Monmonier's book 'How to Lie with Maps' (which I would well recommend to info-vis people!). One can argue even further that maps actually create our sense of 'reality', that maps build our mental maps of the world. In this sense the map is a very powerful thing, a point well made in Denis Wood's book 'The Power of Maps' (another book I heartily recommend).

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How do you envisage the potential impact of Cybergeography on everyday life and on the business world and, as a consequence, on social behaviour?

M. Dodge

I am not sure what direct impacts there might be from cybergeography to be honest.

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I’ve read recently the article “GIS goes Worldwide” by Daintry Duffy . In it the author says that the GIS market has changed dramatically during the past 3 years and that the advent of mobile phones and PDA’s equipped with GPS (Global Positioning System) has the potential to put GIS in the mainstream of consumer products. What is your opinion about that.?

M. Dodge:

The two fundamental properties that structure our lives are space and time. Knowing when and where you are and where and when you need to be are vital. Knowing time has been trivial for years and nearly everybody wears a watch and there are clocks everywhere. Knowing location has been much more difficult until very recently, but the digitalisation of location is now becoming available and will become much, much more so in the next decade. GIS is just a small part of the digitalisation of location. Most people won't be concerned with GIS as such (it is quite technical and boring stuff).

I think the increasing availability of locational knowledge will open up many interesting opportunities and will likely have subtle but significant effects on peoples lives. This will likely be quite different from the current hype about location-based services. However, like any change it will have contradictory implications for us.

For example, we have been used to large degrees of geographic privacy because location was hard to know, clearly this will no longer be the case. Pretty soon most people will be carrying a location tracking device - the ubiquitous mobile phone!


We thank Martin Dodge for being so kind to answer our questions over the e-mail. Phrases in bold characters by the author.

You can find the book “Atlas of Cyberspace" at kitchin.org  and at  amazon.com ; get a subscription of the "Cybergeography Bulletin" and see the personal page of Martin Dodge.

Links of this issue:

http://www.casa.ucl.ac.uk/  
http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/atlas.html  
http://www.telegeography.com  
http://www.cio.com/archive/080102/et_article.html  
http://www.kitchin.org/atlas/index.html  
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201745755/infovisnet  
http://www.cybergeography.org/register.html  
http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/casa/martin/martin.html  
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