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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Benefits and Dangers of GIS

I think that the greatest potential benefit of GIS is the ease with which maps can be generated, altered, layered, and transported to other people. In class we've seen how quickly a map can be created and layered with data. Maps can be kept up to date on a more frequent or regular basis and people can send and receive maps within minutes. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this "ease" besides creation and transportation is the ease of manipulation. The ability to turn on and off layers of data and zoom in and out makes it possible to find information in the map that was perhaps hidden when viewed in a different way. A map maker can look at data on a map in different ways and quickly see how various classifications and projections can make the data tell a different story on the map. One would hope that the ability for the map maker to see this so quickly lead to more care in how he or she is representing the data on the map and making sure it is telling the "right" story.

This leads me to the danger of GIS, and I think I'm echoing Natalie when I say that the benefit of GIS ease can also be its downfall. As I said, one would hope that the ease of manipulation and ability to quickly view the map in a wide variety of ways would encourage the making of maps that tell a roughly unbiased story (as we've discussed in class, there is always some kind of world view or bias that sneaks in). However, I think that the ease of using GIS also makes it easier for the map maker to tell only the story that he or she wants the viewer to see. Because the maps can be made so quickly and transported so easily, this also leads to an overload of invalid maps. The danger here is that, as others in the class have suggested, people don't necessarily critically evaluate maps and will probably believe at least some aspects of the maps they are seeing.

The ease of transporting the maps can also be a danger because it is only easy to transport the maps digitally if the receiver has the correct technology. This automatically leaves the technology poor digital map poor and leaves more room for the biases of the GIS rich to be integrated into maps without question or consideration.


At 11:38 AM, Blogger Caroline Sietmann said...

Several people have commented on the bias and propaganda that can sneak into maps. Yes, it might be bad. But I'm all for allowing anyone to create any map he or she wants. I think it's fascinating to see those crazy maps; to think about who created the map, why, what was left off, etc. Such maps may tell us just as much as a legitimate map tells us. The issue, of course, is what Christy talked about - we have to know how to read maps. We have to know that what we're looking at is propaganda. The sense I got from others' posts is that we don't know and we tend to take things at face value. I disagree. I think we ("we" being human beings) are smarter than that.


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