Barrett Lyon’s map of the internet from 2003, The Opte Project
MoMA’S Design and the Elastic Mind show reveals design’s role in mapping the digital frontiers of today’s world. By HUGH ALDERSEY-WILLIAMS
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, explorers would return from their voyages describing new places and new wonders they had seen. Each time, cartographers would publish what was routinely termed ‘a new map of the world‘. We tend to think the job is done today. But new maps of the world are appearing faster than ever – and they look like nothing ever seen before.
The new maps are often not geographic but informatic, describing regions that lie one way or another beyond the visual. When human experience becomes too complex to hold in the memory, we strive to create memorable images of that experience. It is thought that musical notation was devised at just the point when people had created more music than could be simply remembered. Likewise, maps were not important until people’s horizons expanded beyond their locality. It’s the same now, except that our need is to picture vast banks of data, information flows, and regions of space beyond the scale of human imagining.