Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Media

I've noticed this topic in a few blogs recently, sparked by a presentation given at Where 2.0 this year by Dr. Lisa Parks. I did not attend this conference or see the presentation, so all my information is second hand. I think this is an interesting topic, repositioning GIS as not a tool but as media, or a form of communication. Her topic revolved much more around Satellites and the lack of public knowledge or information about satellites (metadata). Here is a transcript and notes on the presentation. There has been varied reactions, some quite critical. Personally, I think the criticisms are coming from the pragmatic or post-positivist stance so commonly found in the GIS as tool perspective. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but my interpretation of her presentation is that the GIS (Geospatial, neogeography, etc...) community needs to recognize that satellites are not impersonal objective eyes in the world. They serve a purpose, their lens' are not focused arbitrarily on the world, but pointed at places, for profit in most cases. I think this is a perfectly ok stance to take. I think that it is good to leave aside the notion that GIS is an objective tool and recognize it as a communication devise that serves a purpose. Not only that, but that the information stored in a database is inherently unobjective as well. We have the notion that raw data is objective, but regardless that data is stored in a format that was "invented" and the structure of the data "invented." Right off the bat, there is a western bias to the structure of the data, because it revolves around western thinking. The primitive geometric structures of a GIS are western biased and evolved from the western cartographic tradition. I'm not criticizing the formats, just recognizing the problem.

Obviously, communication can be twisted (see How to Lie with Maps). I think it is even easier to lie with satellite imagery. If a satellite image is shown in a presentation and you are told it is of a certain location at a certain time, you just have to accept or not accept that as the truth.

The link above was mostly critical of her critique of the Darfur project. Again, following my explanation, then the point is that the unbiased imagery begins to serve a biased purpose (or second biased purpose if you count the original acquisition), that of stopping the Darfur crisis. I'm not arguing against or criticizing the Darfur project, but recognizing that there is a goal behind showing the geographic information...

Anyway, when it comes to working in GIS, I use it as a tool, and I'm very much a pragmatic post-positivist (if I may mix epistemologies). I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see more conversations like this popping up, especially with more and more geographic information becoming readily available, and programs like Google Earth gaining in popularity...

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