October 27, 2011

Flows, borders and complexity

This post is a bit eclectic, but represents a series of recent publications that do a great job of capturing what we find so fascinating about how information and materiality are in constantly shifting and mutual constitutive flux.

First, visualizations based on satellite images. They are some wonderful representations of both the mobility (roads, air traffic) and information flows (undersea cables) of the 21st century. These images show a vision of the world that is borderless and strongly interconnected, albeit with some clear hubs and hinterlands emerging.

Satellite images showing roads, air traffic, cities at night and internet cables
Source: Felix Pharand-Deschenes (thanks to Jeremy Crampton for alerting us about these)

In contrast, although not in contradiction, to this vision is Frank Jacobs' essay, "In Praise of Borders", which strikes a chord with our own work (see here or here), on the extent to which borders in the material world are replicated in the geoweb. Jacobs writes, "...we find enclaves and exclaves, disputed and neutral zones, improbably straight and impossibly jagged borders, deadly borders born in war and old ones almost faded into irrelevance. Borders reflect humanity’s need for obstacles, for a line in the sand between Them and Us. And even if they coincide with rivers or mountain ranges, they remain entirely human constructs. They are there because we expect them to be, because the map says that they are. They can be as wondrous, frightening and magical..." The argument that borders matter even in a hyperlinked world resonates deeply with us.

Finally, a post by Richard Flordia in the Atlantic Cities which plays with some of the data that we pulled together for the Price of Weed Analysis highlights both the spatial complexity of human activity and the potential insight that thinking through usual questions can bring.

All in all, lots of food for thought.

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