The map is not the territory, redux – Argleton, the village that doesn’t exist

Paul Raven @ 04-11-2009

As useful as it is to have easy access to digital maps of the world, they throw up some odd anomalies from time to time… like this one from Lancashire, here in the UK. Google’s maps of the area show a small village called Argleton, not far from Ormskirk. The thing is, there’s no such village.

The jury is still out on the cause of this cartographic aberration: the copyfight lobby suspects it’s a deliberate mistake planted in the mapping data by an organisation  keen to catch out those who reuse it without permission (much in the way that the Royal Mail salts its postcode databases with fake addresses so it can detect unlicensed use), but Occam’s Razor suggests it’s more likely a mistyped version of the nearby village of Aughton, or some other sort of data glitch that sneaked its way into the data. These things happen, after all, especially when you pay low hourly rates to large numbers of data entry monkeys… I know, I’ve been one.

But think for a moment – as digital maps become the norm (and given the price the Ordnance Survey charge for theirs, it’s not going to take very long for that to happen on this side of the pond), will they become considered to be authoritative, even though their accuracy may not merit that authority? After all, people trust their sat-navs to such a ridiculous degree that they’ll drive down roads that pure common sense would suggest aren’t safe or worth travelling… it’s like an extension of the unfounded trust that some folk have of everything they see on television. If Google says it’s there, then there it is, right?

Adventuring a little further into the realms of participatory geography, the ability to overlay your own data on top of a basic map could allow groups and collectives to remap and rename places as they chose. Don’t like the political or historical resonances of your local street names? Then choose new ones. Want to differentiate the parts of town that you haunt from the rest of the metropolis? Draw your borders, share your maps, reclaim your city. Once augmented reality becomes ubiquitous (which surely isn’t going to take very long), it’s pretty much game over for conventional consensus geography… and the political repercussions of that are going to be interesting to watch.

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One Response to “The map is not the territory, redux – Argleton, the village that doesn’t exist”

  1. Your Obedient Serpent says:

    Speaking as someone who’s both used Official Nautical Charts maps extensively, and created digital maps professionally, I can tell you that hardcopy maps are just as prone to error. The big difference is that a software map can be updated at a much lower cost.