Saturday, June 8, 2013

Personalized Maps

Google is at it again, trying to narrow our lives down to the things we already know. Because of course human beings never want to see anything truly new... This time they are personalizing maps beyond just your location, according to an interesting article in Slate.
In the near future ... the maps we see will be dynamically generated and highly personalized, giving preferential treatment to the places frequented by our social networking friends, the places we mention in our emails, the sites we look up on the search engine. Conversely, the places that we haven't encountered—or, at least, haven't yet expressed any interest in encountering—will be harder to find.
This might seem liberating and empowering—that, at any rate, is how Google wants us to see this new development. “In the past,” reads the company's announcement, “a map was just a map, and you got the same one for New York City, whether you were searching for the Empire State Building or the coffee shop down the street. What if, instead, you had a map that’s unique to you, always adapting to the task you want to perform right this minute?”
For some tasks, this might be convenient - if Google can accurately figure out exactly what you want right this minute. But what if your task at hand is to find out what is in a new area, to see what other people think are important? What if you want to find something you don't already know about?
The problem with Google's vision is that it doesn't acknowledge the vital role that disorder, chaos, and novelty play in shaping the urban experience.
...Google's urbanism, on the other hand, is that of someone who is trying to get to a shopping mall in their self-driving car. It's profoundly utilitarian, even selfish in character, with little to no concern for how public space is experienced.
Truly personalized maps could easily lead to individuals who are even more disconnected to their environment, less aware of public spaces, and less able to communicate with other people about where they live. In the name of convenience, people will live in ever-narrower worlds, blinkered to the wonderous variety of life around them.

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