Geospatial Information, Cybergeography, and Future Worlds

By M. Duane Nellis

The U.S.Department of Labor and U.S.Department of Education recently announced (at www.careervoyages.gov/whatshot.cfm), 'what's hot' in emerging and evolving fields. For those of us in the geography profession who use and appreciate the power of geographic information science (GIScience), it was no surprise that the three hottest occupations in the U.S.listed by these two government agencies included biotechnology, geospatial information, and nanotechnology.

I am reminded everyday of the tremendous explosion in use of geospatial information in every aspect of our lives. The invention of real-time, interactive, and mobile GPS/GIS technologies, for example, has created new real-time geographic analysis and real-time geography. Such developments have led to advances in the ways spatial information is collected, mapped, and used by an ever expanding user community. They are now at the heart of a vast array of real-time interactive mobile computing, geolocation applications and asset management, along with wireless geographic services that are revolutionizing the role of geography and geospatial information analysis in meeting the needs of everyday society. It is no wonder that geospatial information is seen as an emerging and evolving field.

Geospatial information is also at the heart of what many millennials, this new generation of young people, are demanding and which guide our changing values and expectations. Many millennials are involved in virtual worlds - digitally created worlds that are the focus of numerous videos and video computer games that are linked via the internet with others from throughout the world. Even geographies of these places are written and discussed, and surely such 'new geographies' are bound to have an impact on our sense of place and space. Using real world environments geographers are creating virtual reality landscapes to model and assist decision-makers in addressing the dynamics of change and potential alternative management decisions on our landscape.

In fact, what has happened in recent years is the fascinating evolution of the digital revolution and the internet through the creation of new spaces. A new sub-discipline of geography that focuses on the study of virtual spaces of the digital world, or cybergeography, is exploding on numerous fronts. Cybergeography encompasses a wide range of geographical phenomena, from studies of physical infrastructure, traffic flows, and the demographics of cyberspace communities, to the perception and visualization of these new digital spaces. Such understanding will be instrumental as we study our current world as well as future worlds. People like Martin Dodge, at the University College London, and Aharon Kellerman at the University of Haifa, are a couple of people doing innovative and important work in this area (see www.cybergeography.org, as one example that links you to this exciting new world of geospatial information). Kellerman has explored important internet geo-questions like understanding the relationship between centers of information production and leading areas of consumption.

Within my own interests linking remote sensing, GIScience, and rural geography, there are new sensors, new applications, new challenges in data integration, and new outreach opportunities that have substantially improved the types of questions, analysis, and modeling procedures one can develop for addressing rural systems issues. In my collaborative work with Tim Warner, Jim McGraw, and Rick Landenberger, for example, we have been able to link Lidar data here at West Virginia University with detailed terrain data using GIScience approaches to more fully understand the dynamics of change in a forest ecosystem at a level of spatial resolution that has allowed us to ask new questions.

Yet some geographers have dismissed the opportunities afforded by Geographic Information Science. They worry about too much focus on techniques and technologies versus the spatial sciences dimension. In my opinion, those who dismiss such new and emerging approaches to solving spatial questions are missing opportunities to ask new questions and understand the new geographies that are emerging through GIScience as well as cybergeography.

As we look to future geographies we must take advantage of pervasive computing to further the spatial sciences and analytical approaches associated with geospatial information. At the same time we need to play an active role in information management at all levels and related spatially related policy issues. And finally, we need to foster greater inter-disciplinary research and applications that keeps geospatial information and its value at the forefront as an emerging and evolving field.


Published Saturday, February 21st, 2004

Written by M. Duane Nellis



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