The consensus of Time and Space

In the midst of chaos due to the fall of the Roman Empire, with the purpose of creating regularity and order, Christian monasteries employed the ringing of the bell seven times a day to call monks to prayer. As the villages surrounding bell towers increased in number, so did the influence of the bell-ringing on human actions.

The appreciation for the regularity of the monastery bell towers eventually lead to the west’s invention of the mechanical clock in the 13th century. Time became synchronized under the strict settings of centralized clock towers.

“Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it.”

Lewis Mumford

With clock towers, our time and functions were regulated by a centralized authority like churches. The invention of a pocket watch, a century later, helped achieved decentralization. The regulation was for once achieved through consensus rather than authority. Even with the principles of regularity and synchronization, time still required community consensus. Despite China spanning five geographical time zones, there is only one China Standard Time, which Chinese communities choose to adopt. Another example of time consensus is the adoption of daylight saving.

Maps that Changed the World

“All cultures have always believed that the map they valorize is real and true and objective and transparent”

Jerry Brotton

Space, like time, has been ordered and represented by different people in different ways, below is a history of the world in 12 maps:

  1. Cartography’s Foundation: Ptolemy’s Geography (150 AD)
  2. Cultural Exchange: Al-Idrisi’s World Map (1154)
  3. Christian Faith: Hereford’s Mappa Mundi (1300)
  4. Imperial Politics: Kwon Kun’s Kangnido Map (1402)
  5. Territorial Exploration: Waldseemuller’s Universalis Cosmographia (1507)
  6. Politicized Geography: Ribeiro’s World Map (1529)
  7. Territorial Navigation: Mercator’s World Map (1569)
  8. Commercial Cartography: Blaeu’s Atlas maior (1662)
  9. National Mapping: Cassini’s Map of France (1744)
  10. Geopolitics: Mackinder’s ‘Geographical Pivot of History’ (1904)
  11. Geoactivism: Peters’s Projection (1973)
  12. Virtual Mapping: Google Earth (2005)

All maps are a subjective representation of the world’s physical location data, often coupled with the creator’s own agenda and state (e.g. political, education, etc.). Therefore, a subjective map always, to a certain extent, distorts our thinking of space and subsequently introduces new incorrect assumptions that we may naturally believe are true.

To elaborate a few, Mercator’s Map, created with the purpose of territorial navigation, has subjectively fostered European Imperialism for centuries, subsequently creating an ethnic bias against other nations. The map enlarges areas of the north and south poles, allowing for easier navigation. However, it distorted the relative sizes of nations and continents, for example, the size of Africa is similar to the size of Greenland, but in fact, Africa is 14x larger.

Even Gall-Peters Projection, once promoted and adopted by UNESCO and United Nations respectively still does not represent true information. As fundamentally, a projection of a sphere to a plane will always be distorted.

“All maps are always subjective…. Even today’s online geospatial applications on all your mobile devices and tablets, be they produced by Google or Apple or whoever, are still to some extent subjective maps.”

Jerry Brotton

All maps created by centralized bodies are nonetheless subjective. Virtualization may now be able to correctly represent a sphere, but we still have questions on what information is displayed on maps and who pays for it to be displayed. We have no transparency to the source code of these applications and what information they are collecting from us. All in all, centralized maps lack consensus, pervasiveness, and proper censorship. We cannot depend on the system for the fidelity of our information.

Current Challenges and the Future ahead

Till today, we are still unable to have spatial consensus like we have time consensus, mainly due to the lack of proper tools. Like the invention of a pocket watch, the map will require an invention of its own, but with today’s advancement in technology, we may need a lot less than a century’s time. Furthermore, due to the scattered nature of maps, it lacks pervasiveness. There still exist many unmapped locations in third-world countries and non-urban areas.

As my last remark, our civil and mechanical engineers spend an extensive amount of time on building infrastructure that will save the time of millions down the road. Yet if we lack Pervasive Spatial Consensus, travelers, businessmen, everyone else apart from those who live near the bridge will never be able to experience the benefits of it.

Thinker and tinker. Mao and Tao. Max minimalist.