The Geospatial Revolution: What Makes It Possible?
- How we navigate
- How we make decisions
- How we share stories
How We NavigateSo are we really experiencing a Geospatial Revolution? Let’s use my daughter as an example. Claire was born in 2012. When she arrived, it had already become commonplace for many people to have interactive maps accessible through computers and handheld devices at relatively low cost. In her world, nobody needs to learn how to use a paper road atlas to find their way to Grandma’s house. Instead, directions to and from almost anywhere can be had for free in an instant using easy-to-manipulate tools like Google Maps. So that’s one way in which personal navigation has been completely transformed. In contrast to Claire, when I was born, it was really important to plan ahead about where you were going (using paper maps, which you had to buy or borrow) or you had to be prepared to take longer, rambling journeys that relied on dead reckoning alone. I still have fond memories of working as the navigator on our family car trips to the beach in South Carolina, spending hours poring over a big paper road atlas that showed only a couple of map scales. When we hit a lot of traffic, I might have to help find an alternate route. Today, we still need to intervene from time to time to find a new way to get somewhere, but it’s as simple as dragging the route around on the map, or telling the GPS to give us another option. For Claire, by the time she’s ready to drive, I suspect it’s likely that making those alternate route decisions will also be a thing of the past. Our cars will simply know the best way to go given current weather and traffic conditions, and take us there with minimal intervention. We’ll all be a little dumber because we won’t even remember how to navigate the old way. I will be stumbling around an old folks home, dragging a shopping cart behind me filled with dog-eared paper atlases while loudly decrying the downfall of civilization.
Making DecisionsThe Geospatial Revolution is much more than just a transformation in how we go from Point A to Point B, however. It’s also about making decisions and analyzing problems using Geography. Let’s consider the age-old problem of deciding where to eat dinner tonight. We’ll assume that we’ve already looked through the cabinets and decided that nothing good was there for us to make, so we’ll need to take a trip. My wife and I are pretty bad at reaching a decision about such matters, and thankfully we can rely on geospatially-enabled stuff to help us reach consensus. Today, we can just fire up Yelp from a phone and ask it to find the nearest restaurant that serves amazing Sushi and also happens to be open on a Monday night. That question can be answered in just a few seconds now, and if we haven’t been there before, we can tap on a little button to tell us how to get from where we’re standing to our reserved table. It won’t help us sort out the personal conflict that arises when I want a sub and she wants tacos, however. That’s what we need Facebook and Twitter for—to gripe about mundane crap and hear what other people think about our mundane crap. But I digress. Figuring out where to eat is a pretty simple decision for me to describe. What about making decisions like where to locate the next shopping mall in your home town? How about forecasting the potential for a city to be impacted by natural disasters? What about protecting endangered species? Each of these problems requires one to use and make sense of Geography in various ways. What’s exciting is that the Geospatial Revolution has brought about new sources of data and amazing interactive tools that are capable of helping us make those decisions. In each of the five lab assignments you’ll complete in this course, you’ll gain experience evaluating Geographic problems like these and you’ll see how powerful (and how complicated) geospatial analysis can be. You’ll also lose weight, feel happy about yourself, and maximize your earning potential!
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The Pennsylvania State University online course,
Maps and the Geospatial Revolution
Maps and the Geospatial Revolution
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