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Book Club: The Cartographers

Join Elissa Shufman and Ian R Buck for a discussion of the novel The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd. It’s a mystery that has us pondering what are maps, and how do they give us power?

Episode summary

00:00 | Intro
01:31 | Spoiler-free
19:56 | The Parklet
27:51 | Spoilers
42:54 | Outro

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Elissa: [00:00:00] Were often drawn to these maps and considering these questions is really important because maps come with power and control.

Ian: [00:00:07] Yeah, Yeah. And I mean the phrase that comes up very commonly in Streets.mn articles, “every map is the same map,” right?

Elissa: [00:00:16] Every map is the same map. I have used that several times in my life.

Ian: [00:00:23] Except for the maps with Agloe, New York on them, apparently. Yeah, those ones are special.

Ian: [00:00:31] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am your host, Ian R Buck. But I’m not running the show today. This episode is the long awaited return of the Book Club series. So Elissa Schufman is in charge. We will be discussing the novel The Cartographers by Peng Shepard, and we structured the episode so that the first half is going to be spoiler free. Kind of a discussion of the broad themes of the book. So if you have not yet read it, that’s safe to listen to. And then we’ll have our Parklet segment. And then in the second half of the episode, that’s when we will get into spoilers and stuff. So if you care about spoilers, make sure that you read the book before you listen to the second half of the episode. And with that, let’s dive right in.

Elissa: [00:01:31] Yeah, I’m really excited to talk about this book. I don’t know, I. I feel like maps are so prevalent in the, like, walking, biking, transportation, urbanism, city space, right? Like, they’re everywhere. There’s, there’s so much a part of the work that we do and the way that we think about the world. And so I think this is a really cool book to, to prompt those kinds of questions and have a discussion about the question that comes to mind for mind. First is like, what is a map? What is it for? This is a more complicated answer. Like, if you think about it for more than two seconds, you’re like, Oh, that. There’s a lot there. So, um, I mean, I can talk about what I think a map is for. I don’t know if you have any initial thoughts.

Ian: [00:02:08] Yeah. And that’s, it’s one of those questions that, like, it seems so simple and then you start thinking about it and you’re like, Wait, do I actually know what a map is? Uh, because it’s, it’s definitely like it is a way of representing data in a very specific way, you know, in like data that like interacts with the real world in a very specific manner. Um, so I loved not spoilers from the book, but like the way that the book was discussing, you know, whether maps are like the best way to quantify the world.

Elissa: [00:02:50] Yeah, I think at one point there’s a character that asks another character, something along the lines of like what is a perfect map.

Ian: [00:02:59] Mhm. Mhm.

Elissa: [00:03:00] Uh, like what is a perfect map look like. Um, and they all have different answers to that question because it really is contingent on like your idea of what a map is and what it’s for. Right. And like there’s so much of it about it that is imperfect, right in the, in the very act of making a map, you are choosing what kind of data to represent, right? And choosing like what things you want to communicate as a priority and thereby deprioritizing other things, right? Like when you look at a map of the highway system that’s telling you a particular thing and communicating a particular set of priorities in the way that like our society does that. But that map is often missing other kinds of information about walking, about biking, about transit, certainly.

Ian: [00:03:41] Right. Literally, every time that I open Google Maps, the first thing that I do is I go to the little like Layers tool in the lower left hand corner and I turn on the biking layer, you know, which de-emphasizes all of the highways and shows me these bold green lines of all of the places that I’m going to enjoy riding my bike the most. Uh huh.

Elissa: [00:04:02] Yeah. And so it’s like, right. One of the questions inherent is like in what is a map? What is a map for is also like, who is the map for, right? Every map in addition to like, there’s a data component to maps, but it’s also about like representing the experiences of people, right? Like they don’t just stand on your on their own. We like to think about data as like this thing that exists over here, totally separate from like the human experience in some way, right? Like the data can just stand on its own, but like it’s all data that we have decided to measure and record in some way and then also have decided is important enough to represent in this sort of simplified way that a map represents information. Yeah, there’s just like so many points of decision making and bias inherent in a map that are just yeah, you can spin this question out for a very long time.

Ian: [00:04:50] Yeah. And like, and like, what kinds of accessibility considerations are we making, right? Like, is this a map that was made by professionals for other professionals to see years down the line? You know, that somebody from the public who’s like looking at it without training, they’re not going to know what to do with it, right?

Elissa: [00:05:11] Are you talking about ArcGIS? Is that like, what’s happening?

Ian: [00:05:14] Yeah, something like that. Well, but like predating that, you know, you’ve got all of these, you know, county level maps that were made, you know, when when like a county was first surveyed in the late 1800s. And, you know, it’s got everything that’s measured in like rods and chains and whatever. And like, you know, me, I have no idea what the heck any of that means. I don’t I don’t know how to read a description of a plot and like, find it on the map and then, you know, be able to correlate that with, like, what? What information I’m looking for.

Elissa: [00:05:44] Yeah, well, I think there’s something in what you’re saying, too. It’s like. Right. It’s sort of a different way of rephrasing the question of like, what is a map for and who is it for? But like, every map has an audience, Right, Right. And so it’s like you’re trying to present, not represent not only particular information, but you’re trying to get it to particular people, right? Like Google Maps is their primary audience as they they thought about like putting together their mapping app is like people who drive cars. And then after that they also did other things.

Ian: [00:06:14] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Elissa: [00:06:15] So that just came through really clear in what you were saying there. And then the question of who is the map not for it’s also a question. There was also speaking of Google, there was also something in the book that prompted the question for me about. About like we’ve been talking about maps as like largely as a visual representation, which also comes with its own accessibility issues, right? If you have to access the information to be able to see to access the information on a map that is only accessible to folks who can see. But the book also raises this interesting question about like, are maps just visual things like what? What can we consider a map that maybe is not something we would consider a map like Google Maps is a map is the entire infrastructure of Google, the search engine, also a kind of map, right? It’s like indexing information. It’s prioritizing things. It’s sending things to you a particular way. I feel like especially in the transportation space, we tend to think of maps as those like visual representations of a transportation type system or a related system. This question of like what constitutes a map, What qualifies as a map is also a really big question.

Ian: [00:07:19] And we and we use the word “map” largely as a metaphor, but it’s used in a lot of contexts where we’re talking about like, oh, like like mapping a neural network or, you know, mapping whatever kind of information that doesn’t necessarily have the same like traditional spatial quantification, you know, that, that you’re usually thinking of for, for a map.

Elissa: [00:07:46] It’s not like a geography, not geographically.

Ian: [00:07:48] Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It’s definitely something that we kind of intuitively understand that like maps are really important beyond just the, the usual context that we think of them.

Elissa: [00:08:01] Yeah, Yeah. I wrote down as I was trying to process all of these things about maps. I wrote down this question of like, Why do I like them? Right? Like, why do we why do I why do we as a society have this like, fascination with the idea of a map? And obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but just there’s like something about it that is the simplification of a really complex system that is like so appealing. It really there’s this idea that like, things can be knowable and part of how we make them knowable is to turn them into a map, right? That like, you can represent all of something with a map. And I think there’s also like, there’s certainly some stuff in there that’s like related to being raised in a society that’s like rooted in colonialism and imperialism where, like, you know, part of how you control something is also by mapping it and also by like writing on the map who owns it and who doesn’t own it. And there’s like so many different kinds of like board games, stories that we tell that are like really rooted in that idea of like, the act of discovering, “discovering,” the information and mapping it in some way gives you ownership or rights over the information. But I think there is this interesting thing in there about like making things that are invisible visible that like that feels like it’s at the core of what appeals to me about mapping. It’s like there are things that exist in the world that can be really hard to see or to understand. And to get those written down or expressed in some way is just like really cool.

Ian: [00:09:29] Yeah, yeah. And that’s, that’s like it’s such a universal experience that, you know, I feel like a lot of kids have, you know, that moment in their life where they, they take a little, uh, a little chest for the first time and they put some like, random objects in it and they like, you know, go and hide it somewhere in the yard. And that’s like the treasure chest. And then you go and you like, draw a map of how to find it and you give it to like, your parents or to, you know, your friend and watch them try to, like, find it using the map that you created. I don’t know if that’s actually a universal experience, but I remember doing that a lot when I was a kid.

Elissa: [00:10:06] I definitely did not do that. But it’s it’s an interesting thing to think about. I mean, geocaching as an activity is like a thing that adults do. And I think children also, right? Families do. Or it’s like you’re hiding. There’s like a it’s the same thing where it’s like there’s a piece of information that is known and there’s something about the like connecting to that piece of information that other people have is part of that experience.

Ian: [00:10:30] Yeah, and I like that you brought up the like the concept of ownership as part of the mapmaking experience because like copyright comes up, you know, it has a rather significant piece of, of the plot, you know, in this book. So we’ll get into that in a little bit. But but that’s, you know, it’s not just like ownership of the physical thing that the map is describing, but also like ownership of the information that you are putting into the map. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Elissa: [00:11:04] And it’s interesting also to think about that access to information as like time stamped or time bound in some way, like relative to copyright laws, right? They eventually expire. And there’s also something about maps that are like, I don’t know, they just they’re very in the same way that they tend to be tied to a particular geography. They don’t necessarily have to be. They’re also tied to a particular moment in time. Right? It also comes up in the book, right? It’s like there’s there’s a map that is important that has a year attached to it. We’ll get into spoilers soon. We’ll stop talking in vagueries soon. I think it highlights so clearly this idea of like, we like to think of maps as something that is like long lasting concrete, immune to the weathers of time. But in fact, like every map is constantly out of date and changing and like has valuable information. But even when we think about like Google Maps, right, it’s like constantly adjusting the directions that it will give you. If you’re a person driving in a car based on rush hour traffic. So like the map and the route that you are on is totally different at like 5:30 than it would be at 7:30, Right? And so there’s just this like ephemeral nature of maps that’s really interesting to think about as like a contrast to maps as a tool under capitalism where everyone’s trying to like copyright everything for all time, like make the information mine.

Ian: [00:12:24] And that’s and that’s one of those things that I, I always find not just with maps, but with, you know, all kinds of information that I wish that I could see, like the change logs, right? The, like, the record of when did we change a thing in this data set? How was it changed? And and some systems, you know, do a very good job of presenting that information like if you’re looking at like a repository of of software code on GitHub, right? Like you can go back and you can see the history and like who changed what at what time. Right? But like, but, but when it’s like a proprietary, you know, piece of information like Google Maps, you know, Google doesn’t really have the same incentive to like to tell me, like, when did they update the map and what did they change when they updated it?

Elissa: [00:13:18] They have an incentive to do the opposite, right?

Ian: [00:13:20] Yeah. And I’m like, I want this map to be as good as it possibly can be because I’m using it on a day to day basis. And if I knew like, what bike routes you were aware of and, and were not aware of it at different times, you know, like that would help me to use the tool more effectively.

Elissa: [00:13:40] Well, and I think there’s right there’s an interesting oh gosh it’s going to take me a minute to gather this thought We might we might have a long, circuitous route. The place I want to get to is the idea of biking off the map.

Ian: [00:13:51] Okay!

Elissa: [00:13:52] And how appealing that is in a certain context. Right. Again, mapping is about so much of it is about making things known and sharing information. But like there is a really cool feeling when you like are riding bikes with a friend and someone’s like, Oh, there’s a shortcut here. Yes, Maps doesn’t know about it.

Ian: [00:14:13] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Elissa: [00:14:13] Because like, yeah, there’s just like, there’s the purpose of the map as sharing information, as daylighting certain things. And also I think there’s like an accessibility component to what I’m wanting to say where it’s like certain kinds of things qualify, right? Air quotes qualify. Right.

Ian: [00:14:28] There’s there’s some bike routes that I use that Google Maps will never put on their map because it’s technically illegal for me to bike there. Yeah, right.

Elissa: [00:14:38] It’s not part of the public right of way. It’s private. We’re back there again.

Ian: [00:14:41] There’s and then there’s other places where it’s like, well, Google Maps just isn’t aware that this trail exists because it was, you know, constructed recently. So. Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Like there’s, there’s that feeling of like being in the know of like, I’m better than the map.

Elissa: [00:14:59] Uh, yeah, that is, that’s a particular vibe.

Ian: [00:15:03] So one one other last thought before we get into spoilers. Yeah. On the subject of like using maps as a particular way of presenting information, Right. I’m glad that we were like reviewing this book right now in mid-August because I’m currently planning a bike tour with my partner and this is kind of the first time that I have like had to collaboratively plan a like multi-day bike tour. And, and it and I realized that like, oh, I like to plan things by like putting a bunch of points on the map and like, you know, so that I can see visually, like, where am I planning on being, you know, on day one, day two, day three, you know, and just kind of like, like visually laying that out. Whereas like, Stina’s first move was immediately creating a spreadsheet and putting a bunch of information, you know, different columns and rows and everything and like mileages and, you know, whatnot. Like how much money is each place going to cost where we might stay, yada yada. And I was like, Oh yeah, we’re going to have to figure out how to like, like reconcile those two different ways of like representing the same information so that we can both follow along with like, with the thought. Thread of like what we’re trying to plan. And that was kind of a a delightful realization to have in the context of of this book.

Elissa: [00:16:37] Yeah. I mean, it’s I’ve had to map a number of group rides and to think about what people, what’s the right level of information both to have and then that to approximate what other people will need initially as a level of information, right to provide the right level of context mapping is just like it’s a it’s a context activity. Yeah. I think the thing that’s like ringing true for me in what you’re saying is this idea that like maps exist in relationship to people. They’re not just I mean, they do, they do sort of just exist on their own. But like, I don’t know if a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s around to hear it type concept, right? Like if if nobody can perceive the information on a map, what value does it really have? It’s like a thing that we create for ourselves as a relational communication tool. So yeah.

Ian: [00:17:26] And just like a spreadsheet, like it’s very easy to make a spreadsheet or make a map that you yourself are going to be able to use. But like, can you make one that is going to actually help somebody else?

Elissa: [00:17:38] Is the audience, someone other than just you?

Ian: [00:17:40] Right, right. Yeah. Like, but before, before online mapping tools existed. Like, I’m sure that we all have the experience of having watched our parents, like, draw a very crude, like pencil, you know, of, like, how to get to our house, you know, as a guide for somebody who’s coming to visit. And like, they only include the specific streets, you know, that you’re going to have to turn onto. And if they miss, like, one of those turns, that’s it. They’re off the map. They have no idea where they are anymore.

Elissa: [00:18:10] Off the map.

Elissa: [00:18:10] This okay, one more thing before we before we spoiler, which is what that brought to mind for me was this concept of aural mapping. Thinking about, like, how I used to give people directions, right? It was by visual cue. It’s like, turn right, turn right at the Dairy Queen, that kind of thing. And the ways in which it’s just an interesting exercise to think about how we do different kinds of mapping that aren’t again, related to writing things down, even as we’ve expanded the circle outwards from the idea of like the geographic visual representation, mostly we have been talking about like or you draw this other thing or you put things in the Excel spreadsheet or you like put this data into a program, right? It’s like written somewhere. And I just have this curiosity about like, what? What other kinds of mapping do we do? Or how else might the concept of mapping be a useful thing to consider outside the idea of writing things down? Right? Like I’m also thinking about I heard someone a while back talk about music as a form of emotional mapping.

Ian: [00:19:11] Ooh.

Elissa: [00:19:12] And I just thought that was a really interesting concept to think to. Again, think about like we conceptualize maps as a default generally as like a very narrow thing and they can be so much more than that.

Ian: [00:19:23] Yeah. And talking about like, like giving somebody directions out loud made me think about the times that I have. Like, like quite often my brain will default to just thinking north, south, east, west. And so I’ll say like turn north onto Grand Avenue and like if yeah, if the person that I’m giving giving directions to doesn’t know which direction they’re currently pointing, it’s like, well, that wasn’t a useful direction.

Elissa: [00:19:49] Yeah, it is all in the eye of the beholder.

Ian: [00:19:56] In just a minute, we will jump into the spoilers for the book. But first, let’s take a little break in the Parklet. So the first thing I want to address in the Parklet here is our last episode of the Streets.mn Podcast about the future of transit. There was some new information that I learned after we had finalized the audio for that episode, so you may not have heard this info in the episode itself, but we did include it in the show notes. But the the info is as follows. So I asked the Metro Transit staff for numbers on, you know, what the operating costs were for Metro Transit Micro because, you know, as great as that service seems to be, I wanted to know, is this going to be something that we can scale up and, you know, a service that we will be able to provide across the entire metro area without totally, you know, breaking the bank? So here is some numbers that Sheila Holbrook-White gave me in the period between September 10th, 2020, to the launch and the close of the year on December 31st, 2022. Micro provided 4181 trips in a 2.5mi² area, using five buses during peak demand for a cost per ride of $72.57. It’s important to understand that it took time for customers to learn about and use the new service after launch. The startup period resulted in an inflated cost per trip in 2022. Also note that the calculation for micro includes only the cost of the contracted services and software and does not include fuel admin or overhead.

Ian: [00:21:52] In February 2023, the service area was expanded to a five square mile area and still using the same five vehicles during peak demand. So that means that, you know, the costs remained the same, but the number of completed trips rose sharply and the cost per ride dropped due to that expansion. So in May of 2023, micro provided 6026 rides for an average cost per ride of $15.25, which again only includes the cost of contracted services and software but does not include fuel, admin, or overhead costs. Now to compare this to your typical fixed route service, the average cost per passenger trip in 2022 for routes 5, 7, and 14. Those were chosen because they also serve the pilot area of Micro. The average cost per ride for those was $11.29, but that cost does include fuel admin and overhead. So even though we’re not quite comparing apples to apples, I find it notable that, you know, when you find the right size of a micro transit zone and you know you’re able to maximize the ridership, the cost per ride is not that much higher. It’s in the realm, you know, the same ballpark as fixed route service. So that does seem very, very promising to me in terms of the feasibility of scaling this up. But of course, it’s still not free. So as Patrick from MVTA mentioned in his talk on the Move Minneapolis webinar, one of the important things is getting dedicated funding for micro transit, because the alternative is that both micro transit and fixed route transit are coming out of the same pot of money and his words turned out to be rather prophetic because MVTA recently announced that because they want to continue expanding their Connect Micro Transit service, they are going to be reducing service on some of their lower ridership fixed route services.

Ian: [00:24:15] So not a good look, but you know, Connect does seem like it’s a very, very good service and integrates well into the rest of the system. So I think obviously the best place for us to be would be if we provided dedicated funding for micro transit so that it didn’t have to steal money from fixed route services. But I have a lot of faith in the staff at MVTA kind of tweaking things and adjusting and finding that like sweet spot of balance between, you know, uh, how. How much to fund each of their micro transit and fixed routes so that they can work together really well.

Ian: [00:25:01] And then the final little piece of information is that Southwest Prime, you know, they they mentioned that one of the main reasons that they were exploring their Lyft integration was because the long, long trips all the way out to the Mall of America take their micro transit buses out, you know, out of circulation for the rest of the system for a very, very long time. And, you know, it occurred to me that, well, that seems like it makes that corridor a good candidate for having some fixed route service. And indeed, Southwest Transit is exploring the feasibility of operating fixed route service to the Mall of America and the MSP airport. So I’m glad that they are looking into that because that that seems like it is the obvious response.

Ian: [00:25:55] All right, enough about our last episode. Got a couple of new pieces of information as well. Number one, the Purple Line Project Metro Transit staff are looking for more new members for the Community and Business Advisory Council on the Purple Line project. So specifically, they are looking for some people who live or work near the White Bear Avenue corridor, Maryland Avenue and White Bear Avenue corridor, because that is now being considered as a possible route for the Purple Line. So if you are interested in in serving on that committee, look for a link to the application in the show notes. And lastly, our friends over at Move Minneapolis are once again hosting Car Free MSP, a challenge, a pledge during the month of September to to take as many trips without a car as you can. They’ve got some fun events planned and I think there’s prizes. Yes, there’s prizes. I’m looking at their website right now. Lots of fun stuff. Lots of good resources to help you plan out. Even, you know, if you if you’re able to do just one day a week of not using a car, that’s huge. Um, and uh, this is all kind of culminating in the world car free day celebration on Friday, September 22nd from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Wabun Picnic area shelter A. So yeah, it’s going to be a fun time. Uh, and that’s it for the Parklet Let’s hop back into our discussion of The Cartographers.

Elissa: [00:27:51] But this book does not think is very, it’s fair to say it’s like very focused on the physical concept of a geographic map. I don’t know that we need to go through the whole plot start to finish, but I will spoiler now with a plot overview, which is that this young cartographer mapmaking professional has a rocky relationship with her dad because she discovered this map in the New York Public Library a number of years ago and he fired her for it. It’s it sounds terrible when I say it out loud because it is. But then over the course of the book, we find out that this map is almost magical in nature. It’s interesting to me that this book was filed in the mystery section, by the way, and not in the fantasy section at the library, but so she finds out this map is almost magical in nature because her parents figured out that this this one version of this gas station map that was published in 1930 had a town that didn’t exist on it. But if you followed the map instead of your eyes, you could get to the town that didn’t exist. It started to exist because of the map. So it creates this really interesting relationship between the idea of like maps as a tool for reality and reality as a tool for maps and like chicken egg, which comes first. And the whole book goes through a lot of, like, interpersonal relationship stuff. It ends up turning out that, like, almost every major character in the book was part of this like, cohort of mappers who all knew each other in college. So that’s just like a there’s so much relational stuff throughout the book too, in, in that particular way where it’s like almost no major character doesn’t have some relationship with another major character, whether or not you realize it right at that point in the book.

Ian: [00:29:24] We’re all Chekhov’s Gun, every single one of us.

Elissa: [00:29:28] Yeah, Yeah.

Ian: [00:29:29] I think it is kind of important that the book is categorized as a mystery instead of fantasy because like the fact that there is magical realism going on is the plot twist is one of the plot twists. So like, if you don’t know to expect that when you start reading the book, I feel like that really like heightens the experience of trying to think through the mystery as the reader.

Elissa: [00:29:55] Yeah, and it’s interesting, too. I don’t know. Did you read the acknowledgments at the end?

Ian: [00:30:01] Uh, I was listening to it as an audio book, and I don’t remember if those were included.

Elissa: [00:30:05] Well, they’re very important. Okay, Because I read this and I was like, Oh, wow. So I have I have my library book right here, the General Drafting Corporation, which is the mapmaker that made this map in the book, was actually a real business. And Agloe, the fictional town, was actually a phantom settlement that they hid on the map. And there was this very strange thing that happened where there’s a lawsuit that’s referenced in the book where it’s like general drafting creates this phantom town to prove like it’s a town that doesn’t exist. And what they’re trying to do is prove that other mapmakers, the bigger mapmakers, are just copying their work. Right? And they do that by creating a town that doesn’t exist, putting it on their map, and then they can go, “Aha, you put that fake town that we made up on your map, therefore you’re copying our work.”

Ian: [00:30:46] Which is a really important thing to do because you can’t copyright facts, right? If you’re just writing a book that has a bunch of facts in it, then you can’t like copyright any of that information. So same thing with like maps. But if you put a little something in there that doesn’t actually exist in reality, then you can copyright that.

Elissa: [00:31:08] Yeah, so they do this General Drafting does this, and then they file a lawsuit against Rand McNally, the big map maker, saying like, we caught you, you put this fake town here. And so what Rand McNally did was they said, yes, it’s a real town. And they made the town. They made the town happen. They staffed the town like when the lawyer showed up. Rand McNally had constructed an entire town replete with people, in order to win this lawsuit, saying this town wasn’t real.

Ian: [00:31:40] Huh, I, I had heard that it was just like a general store had been built there by some random person who saw Agloe on a map and decided like, this is a good place to put a general store.

Elissa: [00:31:52] No, there was a gas station. A general store houses people living in them. They had an official record in the Delaware County administration logs like Rand McNally. Really? Like, you know, we’re coming back to, like, capitalism, proprietary information. But they, like, turned it from a fantasy into a reality. And so it’s just it’s wild. So that’s like the seed for where this this story came from is Rand McNally made a town to avoid losing a lawsuit.

Ian: [00:32:19] Yeah, that’s yeah, that’s a different version of the story than than I’ve read in, uh uh, who I think I looked it up while I was like while I was listening to the book and like, The Guardian had a piece about it. And I was kind of surprised that, like, in the book, it was presented as, you know, this magical realism. Like, Oh yeah, if you create a map that has a thing on it and other people believe it enough, then it like, you know, then it will magically be there when they when they go and visit. But like having maps be so powerful that like in the real world. Right. So no, no. magic included like maps are so powerful that sometimes somebody will look at a map and see something on it and decide, Well, I’m going to make that thing that’s there. Like, that’s that is like way, way cooler to me than any like, than any magic because it’s like, oh yeah, we’re, we’re, we’re influencing each other in ways that we don’t realize when we, when we put something on a map.

Elissa: [00:33:23] Yeah. And it’s so, it’s like it’s both this story and what you’re talking about is really wild. And it’s also actually the way that like, things exist a lot of the time, right? When you think about like Google Maps, as long as it says a business is open, I will go there. But as soon as someone marks that business closed, it no longer exists, right? Like regardless of whether the building is still there, regardless of whether like, you know, it’s like there’s a place right by my work that was like a restaurant that got bought out. So it’s like basically the same restaurant with a different name, but like the previous restaurant, The Naughty Greek, it’s just it doesn’t exist anymore, even though the building is still there, even though they’re serving similar kinds of food. And so, like that push pull does happen in like not just in like weird extreme circumstances where Rand McNally decides to pay a bunch of people to move to the middle of nowhere. But it does happen in the day to day of like, how, how we relate to maps. Yeah. Like the thing you were saying earlier of like, if you miss the turn, if you know, if my parents give you directions to the house and you miss the turn, you’re off the map. It’s like, you know, it doesn’t it doesn’t exist anymore. I can’t, that house is nowhere. I can’t find it.

Ian: [00:34:29] Right. Right. And if everybody is like relying on Google Maps to know when a business is open, then like nobody’s going to go and visit your business. If it looks like your business isn’t open on Google Maps and then your business can go out of business because you had no business like nobody was coming to visit.

Elissa: [00:34:49] I want to come back to this thing that you said about maps as power. I didn’t like write down or do any pre-thinking. Think about this, but just think that that feels like a really good summation of a lot of the things that we have touched on is like maps are both they have power because of the way that we make them. Who gets to make them? Who decides who the audience is? Who collects the data, What data goes in or doesn’t go in? But yeah, it just it feels like it’s touched on so many bits and pieces of our conversation. Who has access to what it’s like crystallized power in paper form.

Ian: [00:35:20] Yeah, yeah. And that kind of, that kind of brings me to like one of the, one of the aspects of this magical realism concept that didn’t quite land for me was like, I kept thinking to myself, Why isn’t like every map that any kid draws, like, why doesn’t that suddenly make whatever they’re drawing come real? Like, I would have loved to see the book, kind of think a little bit about like, Oh, does it have to be like a really official looking map? Does it just have to be that like the person holding the map believes that it represents reality enough that like when they go there and they expect to find something that there it is it’s magically there, you know is like because I think that would at that point then we are saying something about like about power about like who has influence. Right? You know, if you are able to make something that looks official enough, that looks like it is going to hold the truth, then you can influence the people who are, you know, who are seeing the thing that you that you published. And this gets into, you know, like all kinds of things, like like, you know, if you’re if you’re looking at websites online and most people who don’t have like fact checking, training, the thing that they use to judge whether or not the information that they’re reading is true is just does the website look like it’s official? Right. Does it does it just knee jerk like? Does it seem like it’s a it’s a trustworthy source? And so that kind of like digital citizenship, like, you know, being able to think critically about like what you’re reading, you know, that’s kind of the written version of this map concept, right?

Elissa: [00:37:22] Yeah. I think that’s really I also had some questions about that like conceit in the novel because it felt like it was there was something about it being linked to, um, like map making as a profession, right? Because it was like there were so this gas station map was not the only map that had this sort of like, pocket secret existence ability, right? They had some maps of like some buildings where one of the buildings had a staircase that didn’t exist on most maps. And one of the buildings had like an extra room that didn’t exist on most maps. And so by having those having the map with the staircase or the map with the extra room, you could access that that pocket space that didn’t exist anywhere else. But it seemed very tied to the age of maps where there was like a mechanical replica, like replicability felt like you were saying related to that because they weren’t like all the handmade maps from prior to X time created things that didn’t exist, right? Those were just like errors. Whereas these other errors on more modern or recent maps where they’re like replicated and there there are multiple versions of the same map, right?

Ian: [00:38:27] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Elissa: [00:38:28] That felt really important. But I agree with you that it was like, yeah, if you follow the conceit to its logical end, you were like, Well, isn’t every map do this at all?

Ian: [00:38:35] Like, Yeah.

Elissa: [00:38:36] Yeah, it falls apart if you like, pull at it too much. But it was really, I don’t know. I felt like it was a really fun concept and it sparked a lot of, for me, important questions to bring it back to, like street stuff, right about like, what should we be thinking about as we go through the exercise of like discernment, of mapping, of, you know, whatever way mapping applies to like the kinds of advocacy or work or world building that you’re doing. We’re often drawn to these maps and like, considering these questions is really important because maps come with power and control.

Ian: [00:39:11] Yeah, yeah. And I mean, the phrase that comes up very commonly in Streets.mn articles, every map is the same map, right?

Elissa: [00:39:19] Every map is the same map. I have used that several times in my life.

Ian: [00:39:26] Except for the maps with Agloe, New York on them, apparently. Those ones are special.

Elissa: [00:39:32] But yeah, I mean, it’s that same concept of like, yeah, maps have power. The, the things that we choose to represent and replicate have power. Yeah. We have to be mindful. We have to change things. Do you have any closing thoughts before I, before I say what I have chosen for the next book? Me. My my power.

Ian: [00:39:52] Power beyond all of the. Intellectual map stuff, you know, that we just talked about in the book like I did. I did really enjoy the mystery aspect of it and the like. Interpersonal relationships, the twists mostly got me, especially at the beginning. But then by the time they had like revealed the identities of like 3 or 4 of the cartographers, I was like, Oh, okay, yeah. So the guy who owns the big digital company is going to be the bad guy because of course it’s a big digital company. And books like this always, you know, come down with like.

Elissa: [00:40:26] The library versus Google, Library’s got to win.

Ian: [00:40:28] Right? Right. Yeah. I’m also like, I’m always a sucker for a good like, will they, won’t they romance, you know, especially when it’s like, oh, they, they used to be lovers and like, now they’re getting reacquainted and both of them think that the other isn’t into them anymore. And yeah.

Elissa: [00:40:45] Yeah, this book did have a little bit of everything. It was like, Oh, there’s like some heavy family stuff and some some heartwarming family stuff and some chosen family stuff and some library and academia and self-worth and romance and yeah, lots of things.

Ian: [00:41:01] Oh, man. The fact, the fact that her mom, like, stayed in this magical town where she’s the only living being for 30 years or whatever, I was like. I would have lost my mind. I definitely would have left much, much sooner than that.

Elissa: [00:41:20] Yeah. I feel like we very rightly only got two minutes of Mom because I think, well, her story is like a whole other story.

Ian: [00:41:30] Oh, yeah? Yeah.

Elissa: [00:41:31] If we get more than two minutes into her experience of what it was like to be alone in a fictional town for 30 years, then that’s a whole book. That’s a whole other book? That’s a sequel.

Ian: [00:41:42] [excited] All right, what do we what do we read next??

Elissa: [00:41:44] Before what we’re reading next? Want to close This has been this has been a thing that I heard that was at the back of my mind throughout this entire conversation. I got to listen to a panel of very smart people talk about maps earlier this year, and there was one person on the panel, Victor Raymond, who talked about defining what a map is, and he defined it in this way where I’ve just been sitting with it for a couple months. Maps are a set of relationships embedded in geography, but interpreted socially. Now you all can sit with that too. As I move on to the next book, we’re going to be reading some nonfiction. Not my wheelhouse, but I’m very excited about this book, which is How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Many of you who might have known me when I spent more time on the Internet will know that this book was instrumental in my choice to spend less time on the Internet. So if you are a person who is burned out by social media, who aspires to maybe thinking differently about the role of social media in your life and what the attention economy does to your brain, please join me in a couple of months. I’m not going to put a time stamp on it because I wasn’t so good with scheduling this go around. How to do Nothing and Resisting the Attention Economy. Thanks, Ian.

Ian: [00:42:54] Looking forward to it. Thanks for joining us for this episode of The Streets.mn Podcast. This show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Non-derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you’re not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was hosted by Elissa Schufman and it was edited and transcribed by me, Ian R Buck. Streets.mn is audience supported. If you’d like to pitch in and help us continue doing awesome stuff. Go to [https://streets.mn/donate]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using the hashtag #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time, take care.