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Thursday, June 30, 2005

GIS Cons and Pros

With power comes responsibility. Such is the case with GIS. As the readings have said, maps can be used for propoganda, and this propoganda can be built on a foundation of positive and negative motives. The "Mapping" book has a very Marxist interpretation of the history of map use. GIS in itself is an impartial medium, but the creators and the interpeters each apply their own paradigm to geography and portray or interpret the data in what ever ways that they know how, or choose to see the situation. So the strengths of GIS in manipulability, storage, and transmission, without the assistance of a publisher (or reviewers for that matter) are also its weaknesses. It just matters how you apply it.

Cons: The cons of GIS lie in the vast amount of information available on the Internet, and the frustration in being able to find the actual data. Files often need to be opened just to find out what they contain, so the lack of metadata hurts the search process. Conversely, another disadvantage in GIS is the lack of data available. In my project, I have had a frustrating time finding the data relating to a small Wisconsin town. It's not the census data that's the problem, it's finding a large-scale map of the town itself. I have contacted officials of that particular area involved with GIS, yet they've been of little help, though their willingness to help is heartening. One official says that data is even difficult for him to find, simply because of the proprietary nature of the data sets at the county level. The data sets are hard to get because the creators want to be paid for their work, which is understandable, but doesn't help me much. Therefore, the proprietary nature of data sets creates an obstacle in obtaining them. Another disadvantage of GIS is the high skill-level needed to use it.

Pros: The cost of GIS hardware gets cheaper by the year, even as the data sets gain in price. The manipulability of the data in map-making is one of the greatest strengths of GIS. Another advantage is that a map producer can bipass publishers. Yet another advantage is in the transferability of the data sets.

Other issues: In order for GIS to improve, more datasets should be made available to the public. Maps created with GIS and posted on the web should include a forum for peer review or public scrutiny, like a message board.

I need to say that while aesthetics of GIS maps may be improving, we have lost much of the artistry in map making. That isn't to say that map-makers don't use a high level of creativity and artistry, but there's something about the tangible object that should be honored. Watercolors can't be reproduced on a screen, and neither can texture.

Preservation might also be a problem with GIS. What's worth keeping? Can data be easily migrated to new formats? How does this tool affect the digital divide? Dorling's book says that the main users of GIS are government agencies of "developed countries," yet their subject often seems to "undeveloped countries." Dorling sides with the perspective that this serves hegeministic purposes, and not altruistic purposes. Which, again leads me full circle to the motives behind the map makers, and how GIS can be used for positive and negative purposes, and is impartial in itself. Hammers can help build or they can destroy.


At 11:49 AM, Blogger Jeff Gibbens said...

Two comments on Ben's remarks:

the issue of "sustainability" was also brought up Monday at the GIS discussion group, meaning, "how do you get the $ to support your web display of facsimiles when your initial grant runs out?" Ben refers to other kinds of sustainability--maintaining data quality when migrating to different programs and formats, and preservation of GIS-created digital (or real) artifacts. It is disturbing to me that the word "publish" is used by the various GIS sites to discuss a temporary map product made from somebody's data and somebody's GIS engine. So what is our responsibility to sustain and preserve these occasional products, and if we determine that, what resources do we have to do so? A lot of archival literature on this. We read an article last spring in Ciaran Trace's class on appraisal about making sure that CAD files created by architects are included in repositories of their office materials and preserved.

Second issue: how GOOD are GIS maps compared to paper maps? They supply information needs, but I don't have enough experience with GIS to have seen anything with outstanding visual values. I can bring in an early digitally-plotted map of Wisconsin highways showing bike-friendly thoroughfares with its manually produced predecessor--the digital one is really hard to read. One visual enhancement provided by GIS, and I've only seen this in govt. maps and National Geographic products, is that satellite imagery can be rescaled and graphic overlays can be applied to it. That's pretty arresting, and can't be done manually.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Elizabeth H. said...

I like the point Ben brings up with sustainability. As part of the debate of "born digital" material, the question always remains "what is worth keeping?" There are so many variations and manipulations of the data (or a website, or whatever), that do you need to preserve every nuance? Should you? In creating a map, you are making a statement. To not preserve that statement, but instead just the data en toto, opens the door to multiple different interpretations and the message can get lost.
So what's worth keeping?


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