Digital Maps – Is what is mapped what is “really there”?

A flush of blog posts on on the rise of digital maps and apps for location  based services via smartphones and GPS devices lead via my readings of Actor-Network-Theory  (ANT) and beyond to wanderings in the realms of ontology and epistemology to my backyard and garage where loads of junk left over from past ‘lives’ as sporting wannabee etc. and children’s-clearings-of-their-rooms-once-they-have-left-home-combine in strange ways to trying to picture what it means if the construction of these maps is actually responsible for the creation of “my” reality?

What is going on here:

When we are informed by The Economist that we can have The world in your pocket are we  being delicately suckered into believing that this is really in our interests – in the past when we have ventured out into the unknown local and not so local world in order to get the things we need to sustain our lives, we have consulted directories and maps to tell us where to get it. This is nothing new – but in terms of ANT we might  have brought these things into being by wanting them – our instruments i.e. directories and maps, by virtue of our consulting them, start to constitute the world  “in -here” before becoming reified (made real) by our acting on the information and “finding” them “out-there” !

These ideas explored from early beginnings in Science and Technology

Studies by among others Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon  are developed into challenges to the structure of our conceptions of reality ~(After method – mess in social science research Law 2004) and what it means to me and my perception of myself in relation to this “reality” – or more simply who am I really? – am I anything more than the sum of my “programs” which have been embedded into me from birth by the social world and culture I am embedded in? Is it even possible for me to discover “myself “, let alone break out from this “matrix” and lead a life apart from it?

Or, is my reality “made” by my interaction with the connections/relations that I have with people and things “out-there” and that I talk to myself about “in-here” – as such the memories and stuff that I identify with as important or I use to construct this version of myself and as my interests move – some become redundant and are left behind – but still exist in a materiality that includes the junk in my back yard and the “stuff “of children which is left in my garage while they, the children,  are “out-there” in  London and I communicate with them “in- here” on Skype. Or what is it like to be my mother who is 93 and gradually loses touch with the sequence of the days and the “reality” of her relationships with me as a son and is more present in her “in-here”  memories of her college years in Cape Town before she was married than my presence in the “out-here” nowness?

Which brings me back to the descriptions of “out-there” of maps and digital devices that are trying to guide me to the fulfillment of my  desires or help me make sense of the bewildering density of data that floods my now disassociated “in-here” world and aims to fulfill my every desire ? Open-air computers;Cities are turning into vast data factories

This works if “I” live in part of the digitally engrossed world and I have been culturally modified to accept these programs. The ongoing project of this thinking seems to relate to a pre-existing structure that can manipulate me into doing what it wants – or at least provide so much stuff that I might want while I am searching for what I need that I will buy it- but does such a structure in fact exist?  – or is it too the result of the program we are wielding/writing  as we scribe and leave our traces in this “ether” or plasma”? Can I choose what I want or am I a helpless “ant” biochemically programmed to follow traces across the perilous ground of the “out-there” world? Your friendly neighborhood app: The internet is going local

Fynbos at Cape Peninsula

So, as I was walking with few friends and family across the top of our local mountain at Silvermine Nature Reserve,  I was in my usual reverie caught between what it means to “be-here-now-in-the-moment”- “out-here” and wondering “in-here” what it must have been like to be the first person to wander onto this mountain top and have no staked-out and stabilized paths to follow, let alone know from memory the names of countless fynbos plants that are endemic to this  place alone and that are dependent on the local ecology and interaction between the climate of mountain mists and the geology of  Table Mountain Sandstone. To have wandered around without any of the trappings of an “advanced civilization” and its technologies which seem to have been instrumental in both the “discovery “, mapping and then permanent modification of these very mountains and their occupants. Actually, unimaginable, to be a “stone-age” inhabitant  like one of the “San” or “bushmen” that lived or passed through and over these places “before” colonization by Western Europeans – what did a “Sans” maps look like – what was he/she thinking when they ….

“Suddenly I am jerked back  “into -being-here-in-this-very-very-

Not the baboon who took our bag -also having fun with technology

nowness” by becoming aware of troop of baboons on the side of the path- one of them – a very large male- has red tags on his neck and a radio receiver collar – not a good sign here where these baboon troops have become habituated to walkers as easy targets for food and sweets ! Very alert now – internal reverie recounting “don’t be afraid – they can smell if you are afraid” – flood of thoughts – reassure the rest of the party behind   that they should just walk past – nonchalantly! Not so easy -shouts – our guest walker has had his bag grabbed off his back by the dominate male baboon who has proved his trouble maker status as indicated by his red tags and is busy ripping the bag to shreds in search of delicacies! Stand back – “wait till he has finished – careful!!”

Anyway we made it back – he lost interest – important keys to cars and expensive rain gear are unharmed – opportunity too buy nice new hiking gear in mind ( use for smartphone app) – and we are on our way!

Whose reality now?

More of more later.