Cyborg Cartography

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Natural or political disasters can cause geographies to quickly change. During these disasters, no one at first knows what is going on. Routes that were formerly passible are no longer passible. Resource paths are disrupted and rivers may change course. Entire sections of a city may be walled off, and communication systems may completely suffer.

Real-time mapping tools and rapid communication systems can stitch back together the geographical ruptures. "Whether the cyborg-cartographer works from a helicopter or on the ground, he/she would combine reconnaissance with mapping (and disaster relief), as only the human brain could comprehend what is important to observe".[1]

Collaborative Mapping

Literature professor Karen Pipe argues that the inhabitant of modern, western society is a “cartographic cyborg,” which is to say as someone "so thoroughly intertwined with mapping technologies that it is impossible to say, in terms of knowledge practices, where embodied knowledge ends and technological knowledge begins".[2]

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. "Maps are created using data from portable GPS devices, aerial photography, other free sources or simply from local knowledge". "Registered users can upload GPS track logs and edit the vector data using the given editing tools".[3] OpenStreetMap was by volunteers and relief workers to quickly fill-in absent geographies and road-systems so that rescue workers could find victims of the earthquake in Haiti.[4] Before the earthquake, neither Google Maps or Open Street Map had low-level road data in Haiti. Due to the open nature of OpenStreetMap, regular citizens could collaborate on filling it in, thus saving the lives of hundreds of people.


  1. Stone, Lee Durham. Cyborg Cartographer Battles Spatial Amnesia. Published Jan 2008. Accessed Jan 2011.
  2. Piper, Karen. Cartographic Fictions: Maps, Race, and Identity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
  3. OpenStreetMap. Accessed Jan 2011.
  4. OpenStreetMap. Wiki Project Haiti. Accessed April 22, 2011.