Thursday, August 10, 2006

Map Quest

Is it me, or should every TV news outfit not be using Google Earth as their defacto map tool? I mean, it's cool and all, and does feel like something out of a Tom Clancy book, but there's something, I don't know, journalistically flimsy about entrusting something so important as maps to an internet doodad.

As illustrated in that great West Wing scene where CJ and Josh have an eye-opening meeting with some lobbyists who want to change the map of the world because it doesn't corroborate with reality (Africa, technically, is like 50 times bigger than the UK, but on the map, the discrepancy is much smaller, all to inflate the importance of Great Britain), maps are how we see the world. They are a reduction, of course, of what's really out there, but it's the only way we can really wrap our minds around the existence beyond our doors.

Cartography is an immense responsibility because those maps are the only reference points for current events. And for an Emmy-quality news organization to say that maps generated by out-of-date satellite photography (I know it's out of date because when I Google Earthed my house, the two cars in my driveway haven't belonged to me for years) and posted on the internet are as close to reality as possible can't be right.

Google Earth is cool, but it's a special effect. Relying on it as a source of record is like writing a thesis based on Wikipedia research. Not only should these news outlets know better, but we have to hold them to higher standards than that.

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