24 February, 2020
Who decides where you go every day? Your first answer might have been your boss, your family or your friends. But you probably didn’t say “my mapping software”.
This week, a rumour circulated that Google maps was planning to add a new ‘Lighting layer’ to its maps, indicating the most brightly lit streets. The idea promises a safer walk home for those who want to avoid dark streets at night – a concern twice as common among women than men. But it also got us thinking about the powerful role that mapping tools play in determining the course of our life – literally.
Virtual maps have the power to shape how we interact with our city, deciding which routes we frequent and which we avoid. This influence has a dystopian edge – just look at the oft-cited prophesy that one day walking past a Starbucks will trigger a discount coupon to appear on your phone. But mapping technology can also be a force for good, whether helping pedestrians to choose less-polluted routes or enabling cyclists to avoid traffic.
How else could we use maps to nudge us onto the right path? Could an aspiring healthy eater choose a route that avoids fast food restaurants, or a wildlife enthusiast take the path that boasts the widest variety of birdsong? The possibilities are as endless as the paths.
Whether in the name of safety, fitness or nutrition, we’re hopeful that a lot can be achieved by putting change on the map.