Tag Archives: geography

GIS: Turning Geography into Geographic Understanding

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We’re fortunate to be engaged as GIS professionals today. Never before has there been so much potential to transform the work we do and the organizations we serve geospatially. What do we need for this transformation? We need authoritative data at … Continue reading

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The New Geographers

“So many of the world’s current issues—at a global scale and locally—boil down to geography, and need the geographers of the future to help us understand them.”
Michael Palin

“What is the capital of Madagascar?”

Unfortunately, that’s what most people think of when they hear the term geography.

“It’s boring,” they say. “It’s the study of useless information. It has no practical relevance to my life.”

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Geography is one of the most interesting, vibrant, and dynamic fields of study today. It’s also one of the most vital.

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Geography as a Platform

Following are a few notes from my talk at the 2012 Esri User Conference. You can watch the complete video here.

Geography is our platform for understanding the world.  GIS is making geography come alive. GIS condenses down all of our data, our information, our knowledge, and our science into a kind of language that we can easily understand: maps.

Maps help us integrate and apply our knowledge. Maps also tell stories—stories about almost everything in our world. We need to harness the power of maps to design the future and create better outcomes.

I’m very confident that we can do this. One reason is that GIS itself is advancing; it’s getting more powerful and it’s getting easier to use. It’s evolving with lots of new capabilities. It’s moving to the cloud and becoming more pervasive. GIS has evolved mapping to a new level, creating geography as a platform.

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Geomedicine: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

For decades the public health field has generated incredible knowledge about what makes us sick. Public health agencies and authorities tell us in general what is good and bad for the general population, hoping that we will individually change our behaviors or pressure others to remediate assaults on our collective environments. Frankly, it’s a never ending job faced with difficult information choices, deaf ears, and mixed messages.

On the other hand, we have medicine at its apex of specialization, where doctors know a great deal about a few things and fewer know a little about everything. More problematic, however, is the new paradigm of a virtual physician in the palm of your hand: as society embraces the use of smartphones, people increasingly search for their own diagnoses and cures in absence of a more creative approach for bring public health knowledge into close proximity of personal medicine.

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Geography: Seeing the Big Picture

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?

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Making Sense of Our Sensored Planet

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.

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