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Who ate the bread crumbs?

photo by William Garnett for 'The American Aesthetic'. Written by Nathaniel Alexander Owings. Harper & Row, 1969.


 “The most important cartographic innovation of the last 500 years is that the maps now have you on them . . . it’s very ego-reinforcing. We are literally the center of our world. In the future, reading maps won’t be a separate activity from moving around. In fact, we won’t call them maps, they’ll just be representations of the world around us.”quote is from 'Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language.' (Berlin: Gestalten, 2011.)
 
—Eric Rodenbeck, mapper, speaker, designer, data artist, hat wearer, founder of Stamen

 

I wish I knew the entire context for Eric Rodenbeck’s futuristic proclamation about the mapping of reality, which implies a 3-D tracking and guidance platform as the canvas of human experience. It came to me as a floating quote in the book Visual Storytelling and I can’t find the speech or text from which it was excerpted. It smacks a little of a “TED” talk–it’s got that “aha-moment” grandiosity. He seems to be celebrating the fact that GPS/Google Earth satellite tracking devices “reinforce our egos” by defining us as the grounding point of the physical landscape through which we move.

Rare is the human being who does not already form the center of his or her own universe. I can’t foresee the “literal” day when I will log into a satellite device to walk downtown and buy a cup of coffee. Or when the twelve-foot route from bed to toilet for a midnight pee will be voiced by a robotic guide. I can make it there and back in the dark, even, so that’s real clever and evolved of me.

Of course Rodenbeck isn’t being literal. But even when I look at his idea metaphorically, I can’t unpack the concept. Because it’s really a two-dimensional model–a clumsy 3-D one at best– being applied to human consciousness and even “ego,” which has unlimited dimensions. Conscious experience is more akin to the wild, unpredictable realm of atomic particles than a computer map and the coordinates and labels that define it. Until a tracking device can form a bridge between the senses and the deeper layers of thought (for example . . . the leap from ‘it’s chilly’ to ‘why didn’t James call me back’ to ‘I don’t want to live anymore’ to ‘I think I will go watch TV’ to ‘now I am eating a banana’), I am more inclined to whittle away at my ego as best I can, rather than reinforce it. I certainly don’t want to give it a password and a pin. Although I think I already did.

 

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