Why Are Maps So Interesting?

By Allen Carroll.

For most people, sight is the dominant sense, so when it comes to information delivery, most like it served visually. One way to think about it is to consider that as information publishers, we actually have relatively few ways to organize information. We can alphabetize it, but that’s not very much fun. We can arrange it by time, chronologically, but that has its limitations. We can organize knowledge taxonomically by category or hierarchically in some kind of ranking. And then we come to spatial organization, the system that arranges things by where they are. This option offers unique insights and the potential to visualize information. Organizing by location is a particularly interesting and useful way to marshal information.

Another reason why so many relate to maps and geography is that we have no choice but to think and see spatially. We have to make sense of our surroundings and navigate through our world. Maps make sense of things. They lend order to complex environments, and they reveal patterns and relationships.

Maps can also be quite beautiful. They stimulate both sides of our brain: the right side that’s intuitive and aesthetic, and the left side that’s rational and analytical. Maps are this wonderful combination of both. It’s this neat marriage of utility and beauty that I find so alluring.

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This post is excerpted from The ArcGIS Book, Second Edition: 10 Big Ideas about Applying The Science of Where. The twin goals of this book are to open your eyes to what is now possible with Web GIS, and then spur you into action by putting the technology and deep data resources in your hands. The book is available through Amazon.com and other booksellers, and is also available at TheArcGISBook.com for free.

About the Author: For more than two decades, Allen Carroll told stories with maps at National Geographic. As the Society’s chief cartographer, he participated in the creation of dozens of wall maps, atlases, globes, and cartographic websites. Today he leads the Esri Story Maps team, which uses state-of-the-art GIS technology, combined with digital media, to bring maps to life in new ways.

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