OpenStreetMap, an alternative to Google map data, has had a lot of success but can't agree on what direction to go next, say those in the know. An odd problem for people who make maps, right?
But at least they are having fun trying.
When I was young, the only sort-of controversy in maps was 'fairness' to third world countries. We didn't say 'developing nations' back then, we said 'third world', just like people who were trying to foment dissent in a country were called 'fifth columnists' but now we call them 'humanities professors'.
Why did maps matter then? The same reason they do now. Humans are built to make graphical representations because 'go right' is too subjective - and they are fun. When I was young I made topographical maps of my D&D world. And where we hunted. Yet the topic of maps came up in a more serious fashion when I was a lad because some people - wait for it, wait for it - believed that regular maps 'fostered European imperialist attitudes for centuries' and created ethnic bias.
Okay, I didn't make that sentence up, though I wish I had. It was in an episode of "The West Wing" clipped by Carl Franzen at TalkingPointsMemo:
Yes, a position among the left so outrageous that West Wing writers made fun of it:
"Are you telling us Germany isn't where we think it is?"
"Nothing is where you think it is."
What do maps have to do with social equality, you ask? So did they. Size matters, they say, so artificially making Europe bigger leads to bias against developing nations that are graphically shown as being smaller.
Size matters. Maps matter. If you want to know why a lot of Arab kids hate Israel, it isn't because of a border dispute from 1968, it is because Israel does not show up on maps in Arab schools and never has.
Scientists don't really have this scale issue. If I talk to a materials scientist and use a graphical Von Mises diagram, or if you show a modeler a model, they get that things are often not scaled to reality, they are scaled so you can see what is going on that is important. But maps are another animal entirely and, as Franzen notes, open source mapping has its own ideas about what matters. They are not working for Google, so they have their own beliefs and those have to be factored in or you lose the people doing this for fun.
Well, it is just accuracy that should matter, right? No, not once you get success. Some mappers are concerned that the trend in Mappy Hours - where people get together and drink and, well, map, is exclusionary for people who do not drink. And others complain the mappers are not diverse enough. Wikipedia feels their pain; they argue it is not their fault only white guys write articles, just like academics say it is not their fault that about the same number of conservatives exist in science academia as there are black women writing on Wikipedia. Mapping seems to be an English-speaking,white-guy thing too, but maybe that is because mostly middle class white guys like to do it. Or maybe not, maybe other countries or even genders are blocked out by the mapper culture.
Sex matters in mapping? Not so much, I am sure cartographers wish they knew more girls, but it gave me a chance to use Franzen's 'sex club' term about modern cartography, and sex and cartography aren't used in sentences together all that often, so we should take those chances when we can get them.
Read parts 1 and 2 first, it got me interested in something I didn't even know people still did today.
The New Cartographers: ‘Mappy Hour,’ Sex Clubs And Diversity by Carl Franzen at Talking Points Memo.
Mappy Hour And Sex Clubs: Cartography Is A Lot Cooler Than When I Was Young