While finalizing my slides for tonight's lecture at SCI-Arc, I was reading again about one of my favorite topics: trap streets, or deliberate cartographic errors introduced into a map so as to catch acts of copyright infringement by rival firms.
[Images: A "trap street" on Google Maps, documented by Luistxo eta Marije].
In other words, if a competitor's map includes your "trap street"—a geographic feature that you've simply invented—then you (and your lawyers) will know they nicked your data, gave it a quick redesign and tried to pass it off as their own.
But this strategy of willful cartographic deception is not always limited to streets: there can be trap parks, trap ponds, trap buildings.
And trap rooms.
I was also reading earlier this week about the rise of internal navigation apps for mobile phones, apps that will help you to find your way through otherwise bewildering internal environments. Large shopping malls, for instance, or unfamiliar subway stations.
From the New York Times:
A number of start-up companies are charting the interiors of shopping malls, convention centers and airports to keep mobile phone users from getting lost as they walk from the food court to the restroom. Some of their maps might even be able to locate cans of sardines in a sprawling grocery store.Whichever company can upload the most floorplans before everyone else will, presumably, have quite an economic advantage. So how could you protect your proprietary map sets? What if you're the only company in the world with access to maps of a certain convention center or sports stadium or new airport terminal—how could you keep a rival firm from simply jacking your cartography?
Introduce false information, perhaps: trap halls, trap stairs, trap attics, trap rooms. Nothing sinister—you don't want people fleeing toward an emergency stairway that doesn't exist in the event of a real-life fire—but why not an innocent janitorial closet somewhere or a freight elevator that no one could ever access in the first place? Why not a mysterious door to nowhere, or a small room that somehow appears to be within the very room you're standing in?
It seems to be a mapping error—but it's actually there for copyright protection. It's a trap room.
On one level, I'm reminded of a minor detail from Joe Flood's recent book The Fires, where we read that John O'Hagan, New York City's Fire Commissioner, used to drive around town with blueprints of local buildings stored in the trunk of his car. If there was ever a fire in one of those structures, and his men would have to find their way through smoke-filled, confusing hallways, O'Hagan would have the maps. But is there a kind of Fire Department iPhone app? Could this be downloaded by everyday citizens and used in the event of emergency? What about a Seismic App for earthquake-prone cities like Los Angeles? Going into any building becomes a considerably safer thing to do, as your phone automagically downloads the relevant floorplans. Perhaps buildings known to be fire hazards, or known to be earthquake-unsafe, are somehow red-flagged as a warning before you step inside. (The first person to become Mayor on foursquare of every earthquake-unsafe building in Los Angeles wins cult status amongst certain social groups).
But I'm also curious about less practical things, such as what cultural, even psychological, effects the presence of trap rooms might actually have. Games could be launched, the purpose of which is to find and occupy as many trap rooms as possible. New paranoias emerge, that the room featured above your apartment on that new app you just downloaded is not really there at all; it's a trap room, and you can't sleep at night, worried that you actually have no neighbors, that you're the last person on earth and every building around you is a dream. There are panic attacks by people walking home alone at 3am when they become overwhelmed with the suspicion that they are actually walking inside a trap hall—a corridor that has never been real—losing consciousness and falling to the ground as irrational fears become too much for them. An Atlas of Trap Rooms is soon released, with a foreword by Kevin Slavin.
These and other subtle geographies—trap architectures—awaiting detection all around us.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Little White Copyright Lies
When Jorge Luis Borges compiled his book of creatures, The Book of Imaginary Beings (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), the title told you what you were getting. Not so for the publishers of dictionaries, atlases and other reference works who insert fictitious entries, made-up words and non-existent streets, in order to "protect" their "intellectual property" against those who would copy it. Pretty soon we can expect to see this: