Author Archives: Matt Artz
Since the dawn of humankind, people have sketched maps on cave walls and rocks. These maps documented and communicated important geographic knowledge, and helped our ancestors make better decisions about the critical choices that determined their survival or demise.
Fast-forward to the 1960s. Computers had arrived on the scene and were beginning to be used to help us solve increasingly complex problems. “It was not until the IT revolution brought new hardware and software, removing earlier constraints, that hopes could begin to be realized and modern GIS could take shape,” Prof. Brian J. L. Berry of the University of Texas, Dallas says in an article titled “Quo Vadimus?” in the upcoming Spring 2012 issue of ArcNews. “And take shape it has, creating the extraordinary new interdisciplinary area of geospatial information science.”
Have we yet reached a sort of “critical mass” where more educators know about geospatial technologies than don’t know about the technology?
Maps and mapping are certainly part of more people’s day to day lives than ever before. For example, we know that mapping applications are among the most popular apps for smartphones. However, map awareness doesn’t equate with GIS awareness. Relatively few educators, researchers, administrators, and students know how GIS can support learning, help produce research insights, realize efficiencies and better decisions, and provide an edge in the job market. Furthermore, despite the mass market appeal of web mapping, resistance to incorporating GIS assignments in curricula in disciplines like business, economics, education, engineering, political science, and others, persists.
Mobile computing, social media, “the cloud”, and other technology trends are not only changing the way we use GIS; they’re also changing the way we teach and learn GIS. Just how are these changes affecting education? I recently spoke with David DiBiase, Director of Education at Esri, about the opportunities and challenges ahead. [Note: This is the first half of the interview; you can read the second half here.]
A “time machine” is a plot device frequently used in science fiction. From H.G. Wells’ groundbreaking 1895 novel The Time Machine to Marty McFly’s use of a temporally-enabled DeLorean in Back to the Future, time travel has certainly captured our collective imagination. But the science behind time travel is dubious at best. And even though we can’t actually physically move backward or forward in time, we can at least experience some of the thrills—and benefits—of time travel through temporal analysis.
Geospatial professionals are well versed in visualization of spatial relationships and dependencies. But when looking for relationships and dependencies, examining proximity in time can be equally important. Pioneering environmental planner Ian McHarg put great emphasis on chronology, or the placing of geographic layers in chronological sequence to show relationships, dependencies, and causation through time.
Stories are a very important aspect of our society, and storytelling is one of the things that make us uniquely human. Stories convey important knowledge about the world around us, often in a simplified yet dramatic fashion designed for maximum impact. We have much to learn, remember, and understand in life, but wrap a great story around something and it will make an impression on us that lasts a lifetime.
So where do maps fit in the storytelling realm? I recently spoke with Allen Carroll, who left National Geographic about a year ago and is now ArcGIS Online Content Program Manager at Esri, about Story Maps—a new initiative he’s working on with David Asbury, Lee Bock, and Stephen Sylvia to integrate storytelling and maps.
Geography has at least one thing in common with other disciplines: it has become fragmented. As our world has become more complex, science has responded by becoming narrowly focused. Thousands of very smart people are making remarkable discoveries in their own disciplines. But who is looking at the big picture?
It’s only logical. When life gets complicated, we often tend to focus on the little things. It helps us deal with being overwhelmed. But at some point we need to take a step back and realize that we can’t understand an entire forest if we’re addressing issues one tree at a time.
We’ve done an admirable job examining and understanding a multitude of component pieces that make our planet work. Now our grand challenge is to integrate all this knowledge so we can understand the “big picture.”
How do we put all of the pieces back together again so that we can understand the whole? How do we defragment geography?
Geography—the scientific foundation of GIS—has for many years been concerned with exploring and describing our world. Historically, explorers lead grand expeditions to the farthest reaches of the globe. This golden age of exploration contributed greatly to our understanding of how our world works.
This was followed by the space age—an era where we left the planet and turned our cameras and sensors to look back on our home, giving us an entirely new perspective. Bound to the surface of earth for millennia, humankind was getting its first opportunity to look at our planetary system as a whole—from a few hundred miles up in space.
Video games have moved beyond the stereotype of simple entertainment and are now a serious technological and cultural force to be reckoned with. Millions of people spend many hours each week immersed in the rich virtual environments of today’s sophisticated games. And the multibillion dollar market for games has moved beyond teen males, with adults and women now more engaged than ever.
Most games today have a spatial component, and these virtual worlds are becoming more complex and sophisticated. There is no doubt that video games have a high potential for effective education, with individuals often learning valuable skills and gaining experience from within a simulated environment. But beyond education, where else do GIS and gaming intersect?
Esri recently created a new group called GeoDesign Services. Under the Professional Services umbrella, the GeoDesign Services group—headed by long-time Esri employee Bill Miller—is tasked with exploring and extending the capabilities of GIS technology as related to GeoDesign and applying that technology to a variety of GeoDesign projects. I recently spoke with Shannon McElvaney, a Project Manager in the GeoDesign Services group, to get an update on what’s currently happening in the GeoDesign realm.
I was sitting in Jack Dangermond’s conference room waiting to be interviewed for a position at Esri. It was October 1989, and I was already a huge fan of ArcNews, anxiously awaiting the arrival of each issue in the mail and immediately reading it from cover to cover. So what a thrill to be handed a copy of the Fall 1989 issue, hot off the press, and told “This is so new, Jack hasn’t even seen it yet.”