|Courtesy of Maps of the World.com|
A common question I receive: "What do you do" or back in my university days, "What do you study?"
When I reply "Mapping", question mark appears in everyone's head. "What's that?" My standard response to these questions is Google Maps, GPS etc. However, is mapping all about that? Today, I will discuss a general idea of mapping, the profession and why it is so important nowadays to know this field.
Mapping, first of all, is a generic term I use for people to understand. The official term the map-makers use are Spatial Science, Geospatial Science, Cartography, Surveying, Remote Sensing, Geoinformatics etc. In an essence, mapping is all about representing and modelling the Earth. It could be in 2D (flat maps), 3D (Google Earth) or 4D (with time lapse). In order to receive the final product (the map), all of us must know and appreciate 3 steps involved in a map production:
- Collection of map (spatial) data. It could be done through field surveys, satellite images, computer databases, high quality photos from aeroplanes or other sources.
- Analysis of spatial data. This includes making sure the coordinate system is correct, 3D modelling, applying geographical analysis (e.g. what is the closest shop to my place)
- Presenting of spatial data. This process where cartography (marriage of art and science) truly comes into light. The maps must be meet its own purpose (e.g. environmental map), reader friendly and ensures the user focus on the map message (purpose)
One may perceive all the time maps 100% but they are never correct. The changing world, errors in data collection or in analysis and mistakes in cartography all dither the accuracy of maps. We, the map-makers, must make sure the maps serve its purpose to user and that influence level of accuracy we display on maps.
How do you call a map-maker in the right term? There are heaps of official terms: Spatial Scientist, GIS Technician, Cartographer, Surveyor, Image Analyst etc. We are an unique clique and throughout history, our percentage of the workforce population is more or less the same (very small). We make so much impact in our daily lives yet we are unknown to the world since dawn of humanity. The most we could relate to environmental scientists, geographers, architects, IT groups and civil engineers.
However, the world is changing as technology is pushing the mapping concepts beyond our professional scopes. This leads to my final point - why it is important for you to know us and our concepts:
- If you are in government, the government of any day dictates what is placed in the maps, standards and licences of them. At the same time, using advanced geographical analysis, maps power government in service delivery in good and bad times. If you watch disaster movies, you can see how emergency departments pull up maps or display 3D models on the fly to make decisions
- If you are in business, location intelligence is so critical nowadays to understand your customers. You make the decision (based on maps) where to put next fertiliser for your winery, to determine a new store location, to close down a bank branch and many more decisions. Businesses working with government clients develop new technologies with mapping applications to help service delivery
- If you are in NGO or a citizen, knowing how to use mapping tools is absolutely useful keeping checks and balances on governments and businesses. Maps could be used to track the movements of endangered species, the impact of new highway on properties around, to check on gerrymandering or mapping out corruption abuses.
While maps has its own controversies, I personally believe everyone should learn how to use some map tools (beyond Google Maps or GPS) so that you will truly understand on how we relate to each other and the natural world. That is the final objective and purpose of the map: Understanding the relationship between entities that make up the world and how each affect another.