28 February 2013

Radio Segment: This American Life, "Mapping", 4 September 1998

David Wood, map of the neighborhood’s phone, cable, and power lines
 Back in 1998, Radio program This American Life produced an hour-long segment entitled "Mapping", tracing five different techniques of mapping following the senses. The first twenty-four minutes are particularly interesting, involving interviews conducted with cartographer Denis Wood on his practices of mapping a myriad of different elements in his neighbourhood (from traffic signs to Halloween pumpkins - see a few examples here), and Toby Lester on his charting of ambient noises and drones produced by everyday machinery, both of which in some way seek to reinterpret one's expectations of cartographical practices.

These are followed by three stories, spanning the final thirty-four minutes of the bracket, which offer slightly flatter stories on the electronic nose developed by Cyrano Sciences (interesting when taken in context of the technology's further development over the past decade in various industrial sectors), on one woman's compulsive and hypochondriacal self-examinations of her body by touch, and on a food writer's mission in the 1980s to map all the eateries of Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The stories can be streamed through the This American Life website as separate recordings or read in transcript form
"I'm looking at a map now that's got all of the overhead lines mapped on it, and it is a crazy star field. It's the power lines, the telephone lines, and the cable lines. And there's a hierarchy, of course. They flow into the neighborhood from outside the neighborhood. And as they move into individual homes, they break down. They shatter, so that the homes are all like the ends of little, teeny capillaries. ... It is a living organism."
Denis Wood

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