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The Memory Map: Is it Possible to Chart All the Territory in the World? The Memory Map: Is it Possible to Chart All the Territory in the World?

The Memory Map: Is it Possible to Chart All the Territory in the World?

by Justin Wolfe Daniel Leivick

November 27, 2011

I’m not worried about my privacy, though; I’m worried that no matter what information I feed Google, its services won’t be enough to contain all my thoughts and feelings, that its maps will blunt my experience of the world around me. Street View is travel without the smog and the din and the taste of pork dumplings from the cart in the alley. Gchat, which I use constantly, is talking without hand gestures and vocal inflections, without seeing the way your lover smiles at you when you tell a joke.

As the technology advances, perhaps these interfaces will improve, but perhaps they’ll only further abstract our connection to reality. Mayer said in late 2010 that Google is working on “contextual discovery,” or “search without search,” which involves analyzing your usage history and your location to tell you what you want to know before you decide you want to know it. Apps like Foursquare and Latitude have been touted as ways of allowing us to get more out of our world, but there’s the possibility that they will, instead, limit our views, that we’ll be so busy looking at the maps on our devices that we won’t see the territory they cover, the leaves turning and trees growing, the balls bouncing past as children play games in the street. In Borges’ “On Exactitude in Science,” the perfect map of the empire is found by later generations to be useless and is left to decompose in the sun of the western deserts, its “Tattered Ruins ... inhabited by Animals and Beggars.”

The summer I was 12 years old, we made circles and drew lines and arrows, we marked the edges of our territory with chalk and played four-square in the grid. The ball would bounce out and land in the yard, in a bush or a flowerbed, and we would all run to grab it, fighting to be the one to get there first. I’m in the map now, in the summer, and I turn all around, trying to find the ball again, to hold it and feel its pebbled texture. I see the houses and I see the street and I see the arrows and lines arranging my path, backward and forward, but I don’t see the ball, not anywhere. I turn around again, I zoom in on the grass, on the ground, trying to get closer, but it’s no use, it’s not there. And the closer I get, the further I go, the more the image blurs, smudges, distorts, fills with artifacts.

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The Memory Map: Is it Possible to Chart All the Territory in the World?