Google Earth as a Reflection of Cultural Changes and Socio-Spatial Processes in the Digital Age

Google Earth as a Reflection of Cultural Changes and Socio-Spatial Processes in the Digital Age

Hagit Meishar-Tal (The Open University of Israel, Ra'anana, Israel and Oranim College, Kiryat Tiv'on, Israel)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/ijissc.2014070101
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The paper describes the change undergoing in maps and map-making, in the move from modern printed maps to digital, online maps, emphasizing the changing status of the cartographer and the changing nature of information represented on the maps. Taking Google Earth as its main example, the paper demonstrates the cultural changes embedded in this environment in terms of three main spatial themes: the global culture, the culture of openness and collaboration, and the virtualization of the cultural products and practices. It contributes to the understanding of the broader context of the changes in the modes of production and knowledge politics in the digital age.
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Maps As Cultural Products

Maps are usually treated as a scientific tool designated to represent spatial knowledge in a scientific way. But maps are also cultural products, reflecting perceptions and beliefs on the structure of social space. They represent the geographic knowledge that a certain society holds, as well as the social values and the political relations within a society (Harvey, 1990; Lefebvre, 1991).

The surface of the earth represented in maps is designed partly by nature and partly by human beings. Alongside the placemarks of mountains, rivers and forests, a map contains information about the location of cities, roads and other places created by mankind. The maps draw boundaries, define control zones and places of ownership. Therefore, maps can be seen as a reflection of political relations, national and economical interests, on both a global and a local scale (Crampton 2001; Harley, 1989).

A critical analysis of maps reveals the spatial knowledge, beliefs, social and economical situation underlying its production (Harley,1989;Crampton & Krygier, 2006). Ancient maps, for example, represent a local, centralistic, closed and subjective point of view of the world: world ruled by the gods. The esthetics of these maps are often more important than their accuracy and objectivity. Modern maps, on the other hand, represent a different understanding of space. Modern maps reflect the belief that mankind can rule nature by rational methods, using scientific measurement tools (Harvey, 1990). In the modern era, mapping has been and is conceived as an activity of enforcing rational order over the chaotic reality of space (Bauman, 1998).

The methodology of modern mapmaking is based on the grid system developed by Ptolemy in the second century, rediscovered by late renaissance Florentines, and adopted by the enlightenment scientists (Harvey, 1990). The Ptolemaic method enforces a total geometric view of the world. It “provided a means to absorb the inflow of new information [which] had by now been corrected and filled out, so that a long line of thinkers, from Montesquieu to Rousseau, could begin to speculate on the material and rational principles that might order the distribution of population, way of life, and political systems on the surface of the globe” (Harvey, 1990, 250).

With the improvements of cartographic measurement and visualization tools, cartography became a scientific profession and the cartographer became separate from the user (Crampton, 2001). Moreover, in the 19th century, cartographic activities became closely regulated by governments. The political power of cartography has become more recognized as maps have become legal documents. The act of mapping, like naming places or drawing borders of private and public, or national ownership, has been standardized and only official agencies were allowed to produce official maps (Goodchild, 2007).

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