Every now and then there comes along something that changes humanity’s perspective of the world. Radio and television did this. Phones did it.
Books in their time did it. Books like the Bible or the Koran. Books like ‘The Origin of Species’ by Darwin or ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Marx.
These are things which contain a ‘big idea’, which then have a deep and lasting impact on the way humans live life. The internet is the latest, and maybe greatest, of the big ideas. The internet is actually in its infancy so that even though it has aready had an enormous inpact we don’t know where and how far it will take us.
And in a similar way that the printing press allowed books to change the world, the internet will be a platform for other big ideas to emerge.
I think we are witnessing one right now. It’s called Google Earth and its potential is enormous. It promises to be the map for globalisation, for the global village. But not only can it change the way we look at the world – it can change the way we look at the road we live on.
Google Earth, like all brilliant ideas, is a simple concept. Google has put into one package all the aerial and satellite photographs of the earth available to it. Therefore the first view you see when you open the application on your computer is a picture of the earth. From there you can go anywhere.
You can zoom in on Ireland. You can zoom in on Dublin. You can zoom in on O’Connell Bridge. You can fly over the city stopping at your house. You can fly a circle around your house.
When you tire of looking at your gaff, you can zoom out and go to New York where you can zoom in to see the diggers parked at Ground Zero. You can zoom in on the Eiffel Tower, on Sydney Opera House, on the Taj Mahal, on the pyramids at Giza.
You can see the continental shelves and look down on the polar regions. It really is absolutely gobsmacking.
The potential of the idea is enormous. It can be used for navigation, for rescue, for tourist guides, for planning, for going out (In New York, every shop along the streets is listed). It will be used in education, in real estate, in elections, in crop planning, in meteorology, and in a hundred ways I can’t even think of yet.
The system is really at its genesis and it has a number of weaknesses which we could do something about.
The main problem is that it depends on the quality of the photography available. South west Dublin is pretty much a blur, because the required aerial photography has not been done. Most of Ireland is also a blur close up.
The quality of the maps of Ireland on the web is very poor, because the Ordnance Survey here has more-or-less a monopoly on mapmaking here and it needs to sell maps in order to survive.
This is a very bad model. We need, as a city and a country, to make the Ordnance Survey open source to allow us to take part in the coming revolution being unleased by Google Earth and by the GPS systems.
We need to get planes in the air and surveyors on the street to ensure that Dublin is at the forefront of this new technology and this new era.