Geolocation democratises maps
Maps allow us to see the territory surrounding us. Without this view of the land’s surface, a key tool to geography, humans would not have been able to move around the world as they have done. Now technology makes a cartographic twist by turning these images into reality itself. Geolocation allows us to be in any place in the world in real time, and gives us the opportunity to design our own maps.
Humanity has trusted in maps ever since they existed. The first document actually considered a map is a Babylonic table that dates from the sixth century BC, which is actually a copy of one drawn two hundred years before. In the same century, the Greek Anaximander made what would be the first scale world map, giving cartography the proportions that it would never abandon.
The creation and interest in setting out the territories surrounding us grew to its culmination in the Renaissance, when at the heart of the sixteenth century, some adventurers like Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. In fact, the first official world map is considered the work of Martin Waldseemüller, who baptised the American continent and first separated it from Asia in 1507.
At the end of the 20th century, the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were created in what would be a change of paradigm in cartography. This tool includes all possible information on one map, thus allowing joint access or separate by layers. The SIGs therefore allow different data to be related and others to be produced that would be impossible to analyse with the previous map form.
The revolution of satellites and geolocation
However, nothing has revolutionised the sector more than 21st-century technology. “The launch of satellites enabled global geo-positioning systems to be started up, and that is where it all began” declares Gersón Beltrán, a geographer specialised in geolocation and teacher at the University of Valencia. Geographic localisation is the property of locating a device connected on a map in real time; to do this it must connect at least three satellites.
Beltrán believes that the time that determines the before and after in the branch of cartography came on 6 December 1966, “when the ATS was launched, the first geo-stationary satellite that was also responsible for providing the first image of the whole Earth’s disc taken from the geo-stationary orbit”.
"There is no longer a single map that explains everything; now everyone designs their own map according to their needs"
Geolocation has changed our lives. When we plan a route on a trip, when we locate places, access weather maps, look for traffic information, send our location or even when we post an opinion on a restaurant, for instance, we are using this technology.
And although paper maps continue to exist alongside the digital, the Internet and global positioning have changed the way we view the world. Satellites allow hyper- connected 3-D, 360° representations with enhanced reality that can be accessed from a mobile phone, computer, glasses, bracelets and even holograms.
Geo-positioning systems work in two ways. Firstly, we consume geo-located information and, secondly, we produce this information. “Geolocation has always been there” says Gersón Beltrán, “the main change has come in the sense that we are now adprosumers.”
“Before, the production of geographic information depended on those who controlled the technology and knowledge of it. Today anyone can make a map, this is what is called neogeography and means democratising maps and breaking down not only physical borders, but also mental” adds Gersón Beltrán.
Maybe the best example of this democratisation is Google Earth, the largest cartographic program made available to the public, which instantly shows any real point on the planet.
Smart city, a social ecosystem
Geolocation is a technology that helps us to improve efficiency in many aspects of our daily lives. The Global Positioning System (GPS), a kind of geolocation, allows authorities, governments and individuals to establish an interactive network of communications, such as messaging, transport or email, which sends information immediately.
The concept of “smart city” is based on geolocation. The 21st-century GIS store, analyse and share geographic information, which is of great help in managing resources, urban planning, environmental assessment, management of emergencies , etc.
In fact the last city to draw on this technology was Barcelona, which has just incorporated geographic positioning in its tele-assistance service to help in following up on its users.
The dangers of geolocation
The benefits that geolocation brings for our daily lives are undeniable. However, they also bring certain hazards that we must know to protect our privacy and intimacy.
The fact of using information on our location may put our own safety at risk. A photograph posted on the social networks with our position, or allowing an app to constantly access our location may cause a threat to us.
Unfortunately, geo-positioning is also used for criminal purposes. It is therefore recommendable to know how to deactivate this function on our devices when taking a photo, or to deny access for programs to our geographic location and personal information. We thus protect our data, the black gold of the 21st century, from others.
As always, technology is neither good nor bad, it all depends on the use we make of it. However, despite the measures to be borne in mind in keeping ourselves safe, geolocation is one of the greatest technological developments of recent times and is as necessary as it is beneficial. Up to now, it had never been so useful to know where we were.