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26 June 2007

Strange maps for these territories

Here be dragons, and demons, and every other manner of vision that has ever haunted the mind of man, expressed in the vast emptiness of the blank page that is the edge of the known world.

We lost something, perhaps, when the form of the world was so easily known through remote sensing and other instruments of precision. Not to say one would long for a world of ignorance, but in seeking to craft the stories to fill that void, mankind’s frequent sketches of his fears and hopes found to a certain degree an ultimate and universal expression.

Perhaps this is why maps of the online environment have so taken our fancy. In the place where there is no there, there the human mind is free once again to form the shadows to its dreams.

We note the whimsy, and the rigor, applied to these endeavors. We are amazed by the number of ways in which the shape may be sought, and the patient efforts of those who would catalog the results of those quests.

Perhaps most of all, we find ourselves caught by the recursive nature of the process, by which the vanished maps of earlier ages in the real world are caught up in this consensual hallucination that we share. It is the final resting place of every line drawn to represent the endless hours of a negotiation, or the hard won fruits of the military surveyor or spy in a foreign land. It reminds us of the constant challenge of fixing the battlespace through operational art, and the difficulties of opportunity analysis when what lies over the hill may never be known with any certainty in the endless fog of war. It also reminds us of the constant vigil of indications and warning intelligence, and the ways in which the picture in our mind’s eye may differ from what transpires out of our sight, for the map is never the territory.

Those bitten by the same bug appear now to congregate at Strange Maps, to which we strongly recommend our readers. Students of intelligence, military art, geospatial and remote sensing sciences, and history alike will find much to captivate.

In the end, it may even be that those futile attempts at mapping the virtual may also only ever reside here as the metaphor of cyberspace runs its natural course, and the medium becomes as implicitly assumed as paper.

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