Soc. Geogr., 2, 63-75, 2007
© Author(s) 2007. This work is licensed under the
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14 Jun 2007
"You have reached your destination!" Position, positioning and superpositioning of space through car navigation systems
T. Thielmann
SFB/FK 615, Project "Media Geography", University of Siegen, Germany

Abstract. Recent cultural and social theory has paid increasing attention to the category of space. What has received less attention, however, are ideas of navigation through space. Topographic questions started to be debated within the framework of new media as early on as the 1960's, resulting in the interest since this time in localization of information and visualization of informational spaces being inherently connected with map and display media. This paper argues that the convergence in cartographic, media and communication appliances is made particularly clear by the increasing phenomenon of car navigation systems.

The media scientific analysis reveals that the history of car navigation systems is characterized by more commonalities than differences. Invariant constants are the re-discovery of mnemotechnics with Dataland and ETAK Navigator, vertical travel facilities since Aspen Movie Map, step-by-step route guidance since Philips CARIN, 3D navigation, photorealistic representation of urban areas, translucent insert maps, split-screen displays, the superpositioning of the map onto the landscape and in reverse, as well as the constant oscillation between two-dimensional projection space and environmental space, whether with or without a head-up display.

Given this observation of continuity, the fundamental question needs to be posed with reference to a media history of car navigations systems, namely: When do changes in the technical, conceptional and aesthetic properties actually induce differences for media diffusion explanations? This hermeneutic-interpretative analysis is therefore less of an attempt to write a media history of car navigation systems, but more a space concepts overview by and through car navigation systems.

This approach reveals that modern car navigation systems are manifestations of media theoretical utopias, in spite of the media evolutionary leveling. With reference to Paul Virilio, it is possible to determine that GPS localization contributes considerably to the normalization of automobile acceleration, which affirms Virilio's science of "dromology". Based on Michel Foucault's spatial understanding, it can be argued that the heterotopia of driving would be perfected with the aid of an "augmented reality" navigation system.

The exposed cross-disciplinary understanding of geography as a cognitive system and more precisely as a superpositioning method, in combination with the fact that trajectography bypasses the prevailing discourses in cartography, and that external data bases or at least entire media systems are incorporated into the map functionality, requires reference to more than just "mobile cartography" or "telecartography". It seems to be appropriate to term media, such as car navigation systems, with converging cartographic and media applications, as the genre of "geomedia".

Citation: Thielmann, T.: "You have reached your destination!" Position, positioning and superpositioning of space through car navigation systems, Soc. Geogr., 2, 63-75, doi:10.5194/sg-2-63-2007, 2007.
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