Monday, October 6, 2014

A map of the Midwest, as estimated by 100 other maps

I grew up in the Midwest.

So, do you have a clear picture in your mind of where I am from? Perhaps you do, but is your clear picture the same as mine, or anyone else's?

Compilation map of the Midwest by Radical Cartography

This compilation map was created by Yale history professor and cartographer Bill Rankin at Radical Cartography, and came to my attention when it was re-published by Vox

And this is important not just because of my origins (born in Nebraska). I think it's important because ambiguity is vanishing. Our rush to standardize everything is crushing the variation that makes being a human being so durned / danged / dog-goned interesting.

Some will look at this map and decry the lack of a single, universal, clear, cut-and-dried standard definition of the Midwest's geographical boundaries. I, on the other hand, see humanity. I see differences of opinion, I see varying perspectives. I hear my Dad's adverse reaction to my decision to attend university "way out east" in Indiana. Sidebar for Dad: I am in Virginia now and I still cannot spit into the ocean--unless I drive 4 hours further east!

If 100 respected cartographers cannot agree on the borders of the Midwest, well, they are merely reflecting the varying opinions of millions of people. These include people who, for some inexplicable reason, honestly believe that a map of the Midwest ought to include Texas.


If James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, is right, then the "real" boundary of the Midwest is described in the overlapping approximation of independent guesses.  I like the variation. I like the implication that "all of us" is smarter than any one of us. And I like the idea that the hive mind can evolve. Ask the same question in 100 years and I hope there is still a little ambiguity in the reply.

But then again, I am a human being, and just like a lot of folks from the Midwest, I am endowed by the Creator with the inalienable right to my own durned / danged / dog-goned opinion.