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Perspectives Header

You’ve heard peo­ple say over and over “every­thing is some place” and “you can orga­nize your world” — all through using GIS. You won­der why some of your friends eyes glass over when they start talk­ing about spa­tial infor­ma­tion and GIS, think­ing to your­self “what’s that all about?” So Dude — Does GIS Really Mat­ter Anyhow — Why?

Geo­graphic infor­ma­tion sys­tems (GIS) are about three main things — peo­ple, change and qual­ity of life. Each of these can be artic­u­lated and extrap­o­lated in many ways to include numer­ous fac­tors. But at the end of the day GIS con­nects them together.

To learn about GIS as a tool is one facet of begin­ning to under­stand the power and pos­si­bil­i­ties that you can make on the world. I would be will­ing to bet five dol­lars of Matt Ball’s money that I could explain more about the world to you upon sit­ting down together with a GIS to com­mu­ni­cate it, than I could by sim­ply talk­ing to you. In fact, using a GIS I could lit­er­ally bring the world to your eyes bet­ter than any other medium — even tele­vi­sion. You would see yes­ter­day, today and tomorrow.

And if you have a ques­tion about some­thing some­where I would likely be able to pro­vide you with a close answer, and likely some guide­lines about where you could look for more information.

We often talk about the ‘place’ part of GIS, often asso­ci­at­ing that with a map or other graphic. And as impor­tant and use­ful as that is, build­ing your career and the pos­si­bil­ity of life long employ­ment upon the knowl­edge of how to take a GIS tool and knowl­edge and solve a prob­lem impor­tant to other peo­ple, prob­a­bly has more value to your life than learn­ing vague top­ics that leave you dis­con­nected from under­stand­ing how the world works.

Don’t you want to know why water is clean? Where the good food is? Where dif­fer­ent kinds of music evolved from?How to make trains more effi­cient? How to help peo­ple avoid dis­ease, hunger and death?

There are many more ques­tions that one can ask and a GIS can help to solve.

When you are watch­ing your friends go all GIS geek like and get excited when they talk about GIS, what you are wit­ness­ing, though you may be unaware, are peo­ple who grasp the idea that GIS tools open doors to pos­si­bil­i­ties — to con­nect and let the world echo back to you the replies to your thoughts.

Some peo­ple say that one does not need to learn GIS. I sup­pose that is true — dude.

But one does not have to learn to swim, drive or ride a bike either.

And you know what? One of the most pow­er­ful things you can learn today is about con­nect­ing that phone you carry around in your pocket to a GIS. Think of what is impor­tant to the group of peo­ple you hang around with. What do they need to know that they don’t know now?

Does GIS really matter?

I think it does. Pic­ture this. Many peo­ple will be using data in the future for all kinds of prob­lem solv­ing. Most of that infor­ma­tion will often be pre­sented to them in sim­pli­fied ways so that they can under­stand where to put it, inject it or attach it to — some­thing. But far fewer peo­ple will actu­ally be devel­op­ing solu­tions for real prob­lems, using GIS, that are then made avail­able to hun­dreds or even thou­sands of these people.

Peo­ple who use and under­stand GIS play an inte­gral role in under­stand­ing how the world phys­i­cally and bio­log­i­cally works, and then con­vey­ing that infor­ma­tion to many oth­ers who enact change. That is a sig­nif­i­cant and impor­tant role that places the tech­nol­ogy as a con­duit toward pos­i­tive and real changes that impact people.

How do you know if you are learn­ing GIS right? This is prob­a­bly going to cause many let­ters to arrive in my mail, but I think you are doing it wrong if you have not been taught to take what you have learned and to con­nect it with chang­ing the world for the bet­ter.  It’s about way more than push­ing a but­ton, it is about much more than pro­duc­ing a sin­gle map and it is about more than access­ing data.

GIS is about how you think about the world, how you par­tic­i­pate in it and ulti­mately what you leave behind.

If you nail these down and under­stand them, then you will know the power in your hands when you sit at a desk, push the start but­ton and open the first file — dude.

— —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  — —

Jeff Thurston is edi­tor and co-founder of V1 Mag­a­zine. He is based in Berlin.


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