Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Nobody Knows the Location of Ocean Way

There are people out there who have no time for maps. I know. I’ve seen them. They’re the ones who stop you along Newport Road, shouting out from the driver’s seats of Ford Escorts and asking if you know where Toys R Us has moved to, how to get to the Divorce Courts and for precise directions to Ocean Way. Nobody knows the location of Ocean Way. It’s the most frequently demanded and totally under signposted destination in the entire city. And, yes, I do know where all these places are but explaining how to reach them in terms turning left at the fourteenth set of traffic lights and so on always causes eyes to glaze. You can see the information I impart draining into the ground never to rise again.

And why ask me? I suppose I’m now old enough to look either knowledgeable or safe or even both. I’ve been thinking of having a business card made that says YOU HAVE BEEN SAFELY DIRECTED TO YOUR DESTINATION BY THE AUTHOR OF REAL CARDIFF. BUY YOUR COPY NOW. I might as well get something out of the deal.

Printed maps in the twenty-first century are unaccountably in decline. They are missing from guide books, rarely used by newspapers, not there in leaflets that describe country walks. I’ve hauled up Google mapping onto the PC screen, a great recent blossoming. Key in anything, zip code, post code, fragment of name, and the system will have a go at locating your destination. Porthkerry Park (where I've just been) pulls up ten or so red pins identifying everything from the Porthkerry Hair Salon to Porthkerry’s Church of St Curig. In the middle is the park.

These maps are instant, enormously wide-ranging but totally lacking in any topographical detail other than the road network with flat blocks of green to indicate open ground. No paths, no contours, no lines showing the routes of the national grid or marks indicating the sites of ancient battles. OS this is not. You can’t spend an evening reading Google Maps like you can an Ordinance Survey explorer with its rich mix of quarry (dis), sink holes, Church (rems of), sprs, brooks, bridle-ways, paths, national walking routes, abandoned railways, disused mine shafts, and blue marks the shape of beer mugs identifying country inns.

But press the button marked Earth and the world changes. This is Google’s attempt at world domination. They’ve blended world-wide satellite imagery, visible down to the level of identifying a back garden barbeque, with street level photographs of just about everywhere. You’ve seen them, the slow moving cars with tripoded cameras on top, and for more challenging terrain the same set up affixed to three-wheeled peddalo rickshaws and other third-world transport. I won’t get into the politic here although directly following any Google mapping intervention a whole raft of this hits the fans with locals fearful of their security and their privacy now that the twenty-first century has come down the road and pulled them in.

Are maps back? They just well might be.

This blog posting may well end up as a component of Peter Finch's next book. Watch this space.

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