And the map is not the territory.
From the Guardian, Cracks in the digital map: what the ‘geoweb’ gets wrong about real streets
“There’s no such thing as a true map,” says Mark Graham, a senior research fellow at Oxford Internet Institute. “Every single map is a misrepresentation of the world, every single map is partial, every single map is selective. And every single map tells a particular story from a particular perspective.”
Because online maps are in constant flux, though, it’s hard to plumb the bias in the cartography. Graham has found that the language of a Google search shapes the results, producing different interpretations of Bangkok and Tel Aviv for different residents. “The biggest problem is that we don’t know,” he says. “Everything we’re getting is filtered through Google’s black box, and it’s having a huge impact not just on what we know, but where we go, and how we move through a city.”
As an example of the mapmaker’s authority, Matt Zook, a collaborator of Graham’s who teaches at the University of Kentucky, demonstrated what happens when you perform a Google search for abortion: you’re led not just to abortion clinics and services but to organisations that campaign against it. “There’s a huge power within Google Maps to just make some things visible and some things less visible,” he notes.
But the sign is both tempting and elusive. That’s why you’ll find so many tourists taking photos on dead-end streets at the base of the Hollywood Hills. For many years, the urban design of the neighbourhood actually served as the sign’s best protection: Due to the confusingly named, corkscrewing streets, it’s actually not that easy to tell someone how to get to the Hollywood Sign.
That all changed about five years ago, thanks to our suddenly sentient devices. Phones and GPS were now able to aid the tourists immensely in their quests to access the sign, sending them confidently through the neighbourhoods, all the way up to the access gate, where they’d park and wander along the narrow residential streets. This, the neighbours complained, created gridlock, but even worse, it represented a fire hazard in the dry hills — fire trucks would not be able to squeeze by the parked cars in case of an emergency.
Even though Google Maps clearly marks the actual location of the sign, something funny happens when you request driving directions from any place in the city. The directions lead you to Griffith Observatory, a beautiful 1920s building located one mountain east from the sign, then — in something I’ve never seen before, anywhere on Google Maps — a dashed grey line arcs from Griffith Observatory, over Mt. Lee, to the sign’s site. Walking directions show the same thing.
Even though you can very clearly walk to the sign via the extensive trail network in Griffith Park, the map won’t allow you to try.
When I tried to get walking directions to the sign from the small park I suggest parking at in my article, Google Maps does an even crazier thing. It tells you to walk an hour and a half out of the way, all the way to Griffith Observatory, and look at the sign from there.
No matter how you try to get directions — Google Maps, Apple Maps, Bing — they all tell you the same thing. Go to Griffith Observatory. Gaze in the direction of the dashed grey line. Do not proceed to the sign.
Don’t get me wrong, the view of the sign from Griffith Observatory is quite nice. And that sure does make it easier to explain to tourists. But how could the private interests of a handful of Angelenos have persuaded mapping services to make it the primary route?
(h/t Nate Larson)