It turns out that what readers of the (online) New York Times looked at more than anything else in 2013 was actually a series of maps. An interactive webpage that generated maps when people responded to a series of dialect prompts. Why so popular? People like to answer simple, online, multiple-choice questions, especially about themselves. People like to reminisce about their childhood places, where their pronunciations of words were first fixed. People needed a distraction from the end-of-the-year activities in chaotic December. People had more unstructured and free time to hang out online over the holidays.
It doesn’t really matter why. I just like the way the application’s developers describe the statistical patterns, and the way that geography and language are naturally linked. And I love every chance available for people to become aware of geographic patterns.
It’s out, it’s out, it’s finally out! The book I wrote, together with some help from four wonderful colleagues – The People’s Guide to Spatial Thinking – was released yesterday by the National Council for Geographic Education. It’s a short “primer” on spatial thinking, designed to help you understand the what and why of this important topic. It’s a quick and entertaining read. Buy your copy today!
I like the way that this guy thought systematically about finding Waldo, a classic spatial skill of disembedding or finding hidden figures! Since he suggests that there is a specific section of the whole page where Waldo is more likely to be found than elsewhere, we shall test this hypothesis in our advanced GIS class next semester, with a few spatial statistical tests. Just to confirm that his horizontal rectangular swatch does indeed capture the most frequent placements of Waldo.
Thanks for publishing such important stories, Slate.
Since the summer, I have been working for UCGIS, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, as their Executive Director. Translation: I manage the business-related operations of a small non-profit that’s focused on advancing and supporting the research and education ideas of the GIS-teaching faculty at its 50+ member institutions. Today, Directions Magazine printed an interview I did with them about UCGIS and some of its upcoming activities. And, it’s International GIS Day! Woo-hoo!
There’s a hip trend going around, making simple maps with labeled spaces. At least one or two a week have been crossing my computer screen lately. I’ve always referred to this approach as using maps as organizational templates. In most cases the map-makers don’t go into telling a story about why the data are where they are. They’re just labeling a place with its information, and leaving the rest up to us. The map is serving as a way to represent data by virtue of its geographical location. That is, we start with some data, and that data happens to have a 1-to-1 relationship with some location, like a state in the US, or a country in the world.
We could use a spreadsheet as an organizational template instead. In fact, many of these maps started that way. Start with a spreadsheet with an alphabetical list of all 50 states (plus D.C., which often gets overlooked), and then another column in the spreadsheet has some information about each state (let’s call it an “attribute” of that State). And maybe we know different attributes for different years.
Problem: looking at an Excel spreadsheet is boring. And it’s virtually impossible for us to envision a “pattern” from a spreadsheet. States or countries arranged alphabetically tells us nothing about the geospatial relationships among those places. Did I already mention it’s boring. Our eyes glaze over. Who wants to have glazed eyes?
Instead, by labeling each state – or country – or region – with the attribute, we can appreciate the geographic pattern of said information. When the data are categorical or nominal, you might get a map like what the most popular boy’s name has been in each state over the last 60 years, or the girls’ names, or surnames in Europe, how the Russian language engenders the names of world countries, or what each world country is “best at” (which is a wonderfully subjective way to begin a discussion), with the label being a word or a phrase.
Such data can often be represented pictorially or through icons, like the “most famous book” in each State (again, who gets to decide that?!), or the Food of the States. At least they remembered D.C.!
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But I’m seeing these maps all over the place these days.
Temple University’s Nora Newcombe is well-versed at writing about spatial thinking in a way that makes the topic accessible to lay audiences. New to me: a piece called Seeing Relationships (pdf) in the Spring 2013 American Educator. Now she can share the results of the large meta-analysis recently completed, that documents our mind’s capacity to become more skilled at spatial tasks. She’s still firmly grounded in her own disciplinary perspective, cognitive psychology, but here she ventures into examples involving geographic space and geospatial technologies, not only mental rotation in abstract space. This piece includes call-outs to the Geospatial Semester program at James Madison University and Stanford’s Orbis project.
Nora’s oft-cited, oft-shared 2010 American Educator piece, Picture This, is still available too.