Watching a single place evolve over time reveals small histories and granular inconsistencies. Train stations and airports are built, a gunpowder factory disappears for the length of the Cold War. But on certain maps, in Switzerland’s more remote regions, there is also, curiously, a spider, a man’s face, a naked woman, a hiker, a fish, and a marmot. These barely-perceptible apparitions aren’t mistakes, but rather illustrations hidden by the official cartographers at Swisstopo in defiance of their mandate “to reconstitute reality.” Maps published by Swisstopo undergo a rigorous proofreading process, so to find an illicit drawing means that the cartographer has outsmarted his colleagues.

Speaking of how the model of reality which a technology proposes can end up influencing and changing reality itself, here’s George Dyson:

Their models are no longer models. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it /is/ human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought. No one is at the controls. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled, with no central model except the traffic itself. The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. This is why it is a winner-take-all game. Governments, with an allegiance to antiquated models and control systems, are being left behind.

Maps make for a good example here. We’re all aware that the mercator projection is an inaccurate model of reality, one which distorts the true size of countries and is skewed in favour of Europe, nonetheless that’s what we use to describe the world, it’s what we think of when we think of a map — it’s the default, almost natural, choice.

The risk here is for a model to become so ingrained that we end up forgetting about the other options we had — or that what we’re using is, in fact, just a model.

Forse vi ricordate di Justin O’Beirne: è quel tipo fissato con la topografia di Google Maps e Apple Maps. Ne ha scritto nel dettaglio più volte in passato, ha anche un pezzo su come cambiano le mappe per via delle auto che si guidano da sole. Personalmente, trovo le sue analisi interessantissime da leggere.

Nell’ultimo anno ha tenuto sott’occhio delle aree di San Francisco, Londra e altre località — scattando screenshot a intervalli regolari — per vedere come e quanto cambiano le mappe di Apple e Google. Quelle di Apple: pochissimo, se non altro durante il 2016 e per la prima metà del 2017. Quelle di Google: tanto; i colori sono leggermente diversi, hanno tolto enfasi alle strade ma l’han data a locali, bar, negozi e alle aree di interesse — una nuova feature, aggiunta nell’ultimo anno.

Come sottolinea Justin, cambiare una mappa quando si aggiungono delle feature è normale: se non lo si facesse diventerebbe illeggibile. Ma i lievi e continui cambiamenti di Google Maps nascondono un cambiamento più radicale:

Over the course of a year, Google quietly turned its map inside-out – transforming it from a road map into a place map. A year ago, the roads were the most prominent part of the map – the thing you noticed first. Now, the places are. […]

Looking again at the screenshots above of New York, London, and San Francisco, we see a year-over-year increase in place labels and a year-over-year decrease in road labels. And we see the same visually: Google has been gradually increasing the prominence of its places while slowly decreasing the prominence of its roads.