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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Who wants to use GIS for what?

I’d like to say that the single greatest potential benefit of GIS is to give a powerful presentation effect with such visual methods as map and data. In particular, the way of representing human geographic characteristics with GIS appears to be very intriguing and persuasive to the audience because GIS can show the aggregated nature of individuals in a certain area. It seems that nobody would seem to refute the outcome from GIS with their own belief and legitimacy claim because the presentation with GIS seems to be objective and scientific.
However, this strength can easily become the very danger of GIS because GIS, like any other technologies, can not help reflecting on user’ or sponsor’s intention or assumption. Once we decide the research topic and hypothesis, there is not much possibility to be free from our assumption on the research target. Likewise, the research tool also can not help being used for verifying the researcher’s assumption. Especially, since GIS costs the user a lot of money, it is not likely to be employed fairly in terms of social economic status. That means that financially available individuals or groups are more likely to use GIS for their purpose than the individuals or groups who are not. Currently, we are noticing that business area tends to use GIS for market analysis. They try to reduce human natures to a certain degree based on and collected information and geographic boundaries. GIS really helps market decide their marketing strategies just in order to make more profits or survive in competition. In addition, government can use GIS for social surveillance and control. As you know, the Bush administration has been enjoying information surveillance in the name of Patriot Act. They must use GIS to seek potential criminals or terrorists. On the other hand, this encroaches on human right of privacy to a great extent.
In sum, I think that both potential benefit and danger of all technologies including GIS depend on user’s norm and goal. NGOs as well as corporations use GIS for their own purposes. This fact demonstrates that the GIS can be used for a variety of intention and assumption. Then, what is matter? At this point, I think that it becomes the matter of philosophical assumption of technology. In particular, ethical assumption or critical consideration of technology must be discussed with regard to GIS use. I believe that the ultimate use of technology must be towards contributing to human beings’ emancipation. Emancipation is not a huge topic. I think that emancipation is to lead us to think more critically before we accept our reality per se. Therefore, I think that we can GIS for human emancipation not for dehumanization.


At 12:24 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I think Umaysay makes some very interesting points in this post. Access to GIS, while perhaps more democratic than previous forms of mapping, is still very much determined by the social-economic status of the user. Sarah Elwood, a professor of geography who is pioneering research in “community GIS,” makes this clear in her and William Craig’s article. They argue that to build strong communities, geographic representations of those places should not come from the “top down.” Rather it is crucial to incorporate the experiences of those who live there, whether they know about GIS or not. A professional in an office, even if he or she knows the place well, is liable to intentionally or unintentionally exclude important pieces that make that place what it is.


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