They’re Mapping the World

04 May

Map4Back in the late 1950s, my dad bought me a subscription to National Geographic Magazine.  He renewed it every year until I graduated from high school.  I loved the magazine’s photos, stories, and sense of adventure.  Most of all, I loved the maps.

Back then, National Geographic included a new map with almost every new issue. One month, I might receive a map of Africa, next month China, next, Alaska.

I collected those maps in blue folder knowing that one day I would visit all of those strange and exotic places.  I studied the maps and I imagined what I might see when I reached those distant destinations.  I hung onto those maps and that blue folder for years.  They were a special treasure for me.

•  I just typed in the street address, city, state, etc. of the home I grew up into  At first, I didn’t recognize the house.  The big tree in the front yard is gone.  The row of trees between our house and the neighbor’s is gone.  But the pine tree in the back yard is still there but much bigger.  And though the house is changed–and smaller than I remembered–it’s still there.

The underlying technology that can show me the house I haven’t seen in close to 40 years is amazing but also disturbing.

•  When I was 18, (probably motivated by all those National Geographic maps I’d collected) I hitchhiked from Illinois down to Mexico and stayed for 3 or 4 months on 80 cents a day.  Later I hitchhiked  back home and then up to Alaska.  Again, I stayed for 3 or 4 months, got a job, and then returned to Illinois.  At age 19, I joined a seamans’ union in New Orleans (I don’t remember how I got there; I must’ve hitchhiked, again) and later sailed from Houston to Madras and Calcutta, India on a WWII freighter.

These were adventures.  I went places that, at most, you could see on a map, but you had no idea of where you were really going or what you might see until you actually arrived.  It was exciting to see places I’d only imagined.  It was exciting to see the unknown.  I have memories of what I saw that I could tell you about, but I can’t really show you.  Those memories are special to me precisely because they can’t truly be shared.

But now we have technologies (Google Earth and that can show us almost every street, city and valley on earth.  The technology is breath-taking, but the consequences are disturbing.

Our trips and vacations are becoming as predictable as the menu at McDonald’s.

None of us can go anywhere that all of us can’t see on the internet.  None of us can go anywhere that we can’t preview on the internet.   Where is the mystery?  Where’s the adventure?  Where’s the surprise?  Where’s the danger?  With a GPS system, what do I need with maps?  What do I need with imagination?

And what’s next?  How long before Google not only photographs the exterior of the house where I grew up but also the interior?  How long before Google can show us, real time, what anyone and everyone is doing right now?  George Orwell’s 1984 didn’t begin to imagine the power of spying on people that’s inherent in modern computers and cheap, digital memory.

There is some cause for hope.  When I looked up the address of the house I live in today, Google gave me pictures of the back alley–not from the actual Street where the house is located.  Somehow, Google missed the street I now live on.  I am strangely elated by Google’s error.

Perhaps resistance is not yet futile.



Posted by on May 4, 2014 in Technology


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8 responses to “They’re Mapping the World

  1. palani

    May 4, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    A change of position does not necessarily mean a change of condition.

    A while back I was in the microfilm area of the university law library and came across documents from as far back as 1835 that had been microfilmed. One of these documents was a map showing the first section lines in the area. These are the section lines still in use today. What was interesting was that the cartographers had documented the location of the indian trails in use. Now if you look around the country you will never find these trails but you could get close with the use of this map. The roads are laid out east and west, north and south while the indians followed the ridges and creeks.

    I can transform myself back to this period just by visualizing where these trails were laid out and ignoring the roads.

  2. Annie B.

    May 4, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    Hello! I love reading your post. I was wondering if you would do a piece on the ramifications of this fact quoted below, It seems as though the lights are on but nobody is home!;


    December 9th 1945 International Organization Immunities Act relinquished every public office of the United States to the United Nations.

    I was also wondering if you could help me understand something else. I have a friend that was charged with a Title 18 financial crime. When you research Title 18, one will find that most sections have been repealed or changed/moved to a new section. One of the charges/convictions, that he was charged with was repealed and change to a criminal procedure. (Say what?)
    The other conviction they attained, had been changed to a new section under Title 18. I could not understand why the P.T.B. didn’t just charge him with the new replacement statute. That is, until I read it. It was not even close to the old section. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it. It appears that people are sitting in those private prisons for profit, convicted by a non-existent government, under non-existent statutes.

    Thanks in advance! I hope you will enlighten me, and write that piece about what Congress did in 1945 without full disclosure to the People.

    Annie B..

    • Adask

      May 4, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      You’re asking questions about something I’ve never researched. I’ve heard similar stories for some time, but I never really looked into them. I’m not likely to write a story on that subject until the “spirit moves me” to drop whatever else I’m already doing and start researching that particular issue. It’s not on my radar, at this time. When it is, I’ll write about it.

  3. #AceNewsGroup

    May 4, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Reblogged this on Ace Friends News 2014 and commented:
    #AND2014 – My dad had a subscription to this magazine and as a child l would pick-up these it was wonderful to read. #mustreadandcomment post

  4. henry

    May 4, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    As a child I was also fascinated with maps. Old maps of my town showed me why the streets were where they are, why they have names that they have, how the land was used, and how the ideas that the population held had changed over time. It gave me meaning to the environment around me. I found it strange that nobody else was interested in these things.

    I have traveled the world and realized that others who travel the world are not looking for the same thing that I am. Most of the people that I talk to on my travels have a bucket list of things to see before they die. When asked why they came to see the Great Wall, Machu Picchu, the Amalfi coast or Pompeii few will give an intelligible response. Somebody told them that they should see this. They look at the thing that they saw in pictures and say OK what’s next. They don’t ask why the thing was built, who built it, what were they thinking, where did they go, and how do the people living here today think differently than myself. In short they don’t ask for meaning. The pictures of places on the internet may cause more people to go to places to confirm the pictures but it won’t effect the curious because, so far, the meaning is not captured in the images.

    The best way to be surprised is to backpack away from the tourist traps and talk to locals. Don’t bring a cell phone and don’t look at the internet while on vacation. This may be difficult if you are old or have small children. Some people like to sleep on the beach but when I get back from vacation I’m exhausted. I need a vacation from my vacation. If you don’t mind roughing it, having adventures around the world is cheaper than sleeping in a resort.

    Looking at pictures of my old houses told me another story. I moved away from there for reasons. The houses look similar to what I remembered but it does not indicate that the neighborhoods have changed. The people are poorer, have more crime, and fear. The static pictures do not cause me concern, the coming live video is frightening. The public video cameras are popping up like mushrooms. If it comes to my town, it will be a reason to move again.

  5. gsgkill

    May 6, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Security outfits use Google Earth Live, real time close and personal

  6. Peter

    May 6, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    Google must know where my silver is buried…., oh no!


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