Wired has a great story explaining the profound implications of Google Maps and Google Earth, mainly due to the fact that these maps don’t have to come from only one point of view, but can capture the collective frame of reference from millions of users across the globe: Google Maps Is Changing the Way We See the World.
This quote captures what I think is the main world-changing factor:
“The annotations weren’t created by Google, nor by some official mapping agency. Instead, they are the products of a volunteer army of amateur cartographers. “It didn’t take sophisticated software,” Hanke says. “What it took was a substrate â€” the satellite imagery of Earth â€” in an accessible form and a simple authoring language for people to create and share stuff. Once that software existed, the urge to describe and annotate just took off.”
Some of the article is a little more utopian than fits reality, but that’s just Wired. Still, you can’t deny that it really does change, forever, the way the human geographical world describes itself. I think the main thing, for me, is the stories: that because we’re not stuck with a single, 2-dimensional map that can only speak of one or a frames of reference, we can now see a given spot of the earth and learn of its human context — the stories that happened there to regular people, or people you might not otherwise know or understand.
It really is amazing what happens when you have the right banana.