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A curious drive that re-wired my head

Here and now boys.

In August 2002 I gave a paper at the New Zeland ESRI Users conference. I took with me a piece of plastic, spat out of a 3D printer.

I actually got a laugh for just talking about 3D printers, which was nice, but they are real.

In my presentation I asked the audience to think about a 3D printer the size of the Earth. "So what if we took all the GIS data from every GIS in the world and printed it out on an Earth-sized 3D printer. Would it resemble this earth? More importantly, would you want to live there?"

[Some parts would be easier to get right than others. The famous "cookie-cutter" model adopted by MacDonalds, means you could reduce the entire chain to a few generic "symbols" and ten thousand odd points. Airports look the same whereever you are (some even argue there is a single giant global city called airport). Urban sprawl here, resembles urban sprawl there. These Snowcrash landscapes seem to come "pre-abstracted." In fact, any landscape that looks like the insides of a video game would reproduce well on our plastic planet.]

That night I had a four hour drive to get home. It was a stormy night and I am a B-roads person at the best of times. On that drive I had three curious experiences.

I had a GPS on the car hooked up to a GSM modem that was sqawking my position off to a web server, so I could be tracked online. There was no in-car display, but my wife had told me she would look in on the site as I drove (at one point,close to home, there was a detour and she rang me and said "what are you doing in Otahuhu?"). So there I was, enjoying this odd experience of being semi-lost in the dark, in the middle of the North Island, but at the same time existing inside a map. Living in the map doesn't need to involve a decision to inhabit virtual worlds. The map is inhabiting the real world.

As I drove, I imagined myself to be driving through an information field, with the car radio as my detector. Clearly I had been pondering information geographies a little too much that week. I noticed that unsurprisingly, as I got the close to a town, the airwaves became more cluttered, and the music more segmented. Away from towns I was listening to "golden" hits. Close to towns, stations clamoured for attention with all manner of styles. I have since described this pattern as Christaller on speed -but I'll say anything to get a laugh.

Somewhere south of Auckland I tuned the mother of ubiquitous radio -the BBC world service. This was the cool bit. Remember I had been musing about a plastic earth 3D printout world earlier that day.
BBC played an interview with one Danny Hillis.

Danny Hillis is one of the cleverest people on the planet. Amongst lots of other things, he has apparently endeared himself to cartographers by making a table sized map display that actually deforms to model relief. And what did he say on that BBC interview? He pointed out that most human made structures built today were first designed on a computer, and thus the world is becoming a printout from a computer.

It was all too much for me. Earlier in the day I had heard Prof.Pip Forer talk about GIS with references to Aldous Huxley and not quite got what he meant by "time impacting". Here I was driving through a map, listening to Danny Hillis finish the story I had started hours before. Talk about time impacting.


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