Workshop report - Mapping Places for Digital Natives and Other Generations (2018)

This workshop report presents the highlights of the EuroSDR seminar Mapping Places for Digital Natives, which took place on 19th January 2018 in Paris, France.
topography, mapping, places, digital natives

Digital technologies impact our tasks and concerns related to the earth we inhabit, to places. They have also modified, across several generations, our capacities related to information management. In this context, a working seminar was organized by EuroSDR to explore what can be said, from national mapping agencies practices and from some literature, about the expectations of the new generations, the digital natives and the next ones, regarding maps of places: what maps do they need at all and how can these maps be produced.

For centuries, national mapping bodies have been missioned to define, produce and maintain, at the best cost, a precious common good for societies: shared abstractions of physical geography. Several abstractions are needed depending on users (human, machine) and on usages (communication, inventory, analysis). These are typically topographic maps, topographic databases, height models, gazetteers, land use land cover data, 3D models. Maps are used for visual reasoning to have an awareness of a territory beyond their mere perception, whereas databases are used to feed programs. This information support individual tasks, e.g. discovering what does a neighbor look like, but also collective tasks, – e.g. : to convince peers that there is no correlation between a urban tissue evolution and a regulation, to make commitments to funders and electors about the improvement of green space in a region, to participate to e-democracy debates related to new building-. National map makers do not simply measure and draw what they see, they make different choices throughout a complex abstraction process to provide a representation homogeneous enough to be tractable –to be used by machines or to feed visual reasoning- and expressive enough to be faithful to the specificities of surveyed landscape. These languages differ across nations, even within Europe, dure to difference in physical space but also in cultures (Kent 2008)(Kent 2009)(Robinson et al. 1995)(Bucher et al. 2010).

Users have to learn these languages, to read without too much effort a topographic map. For a long time in many countries, most citizens got to learn to decode a national topographic map from their national mapping agency during their outdoor leisure or during military duty and hence to learn the national topographic language. This has changed for many reasons: the usage of new technologies to fulfil tasks that required map reading some years ago, but also what (Edsall 2007) refers to as “globalization and cartographic design”.

This working seminar gathered 9 participants coming from France, Switzerland, Greece and Germany and with different backgrounds: practitioners at national mapping agencies or scientists with different backgrounds (geomatics, digital humanities, information science). The first part of this report exposes practical experiences of the French and Swiss national mapping agencies with digital natives. The second part presents perspectives brought by academics. The last part is a summary of discussions and a set of suggestions for future work.