The VerySpatial Classroom 01: Geography Matters

By: Jesse, August 19, 2005

This is the first installment of The VerySpatial Classroom, a column on intended to provide information on, and answer questions regarding, Geography and geospatial technologies. While the main goal of the VerySpatial Classroom is to support the Classroom Podcast Episodes that are coming in the future, we will also be offering some insight as to why Geography matters. As has been discussed in the VerySpatial podcast there has been a boom in the last few years in spatial technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), web mapping, location-based services (LBS), and global positioning system (GPS). This boom comes as these technologies, previously available only to professionals, are now being made more accessible to the general public. However, as these technologies gain in popularity, it becomes increasingly important to try to give non-expert users at least a basic knowledge of their appropriate use.

Geospatial technologies enable users to easily access information about spatial relationships, but the ability to understand and interpret the data and information that is being represented requires at least a basic familiarity with the concepts of Geography. Everyone uses spatial information in their day-to-day lives, from deciding on the best route to get to the grocery store to choosing a home that does not sit in a flood plain. It is important, however, that adopters of geospatial technologies understand the assumptions that go along with them. Issues of abstraction, scale, resolution, and data capture lie at the basis of this understanding, along with more general information regarding spatial relationships. The ability to find important spatial features or patterns in this information allows Geographers to make interpretations.

One of the keys to the professional use of these geospatial technologies is its holistic aspect; the potential to bring together mapped, tabular, even multimedia information in one place. It is the ability to access all available and pertinent information at once that makes geospatial technologies so useful, not only to Geographers, but to anyone who uses spatial data, from biologists, to landscape architects, to historians, and on to any number of researchers or professionals in a wide array of fields. A couple of examples of non-traditional maps would include the mapping of the human genome, a project that has been ongoing for decades now, to a newer example such as mapping the data traffic of the internet.

Geography can be seen in areas throughout our lives, even in areas where it is not expected, supporting us in our day-to-day activities. While it is important that non-experts learn, at least to some extent, about the background of the data they use, we can still learn a great deal about the world around us either through the use of geospatial technologies, a map, or just by observing our surroundings. In the end it is important to understand, as we will show through this column, that Geography matters.