My latest lesson in GIS

My latest lesson in GIS came from Twitter

More difficult than deciding what to write about in my first blog post, has been deciding what to write about in my second. I want to keep some sense of continuity in my writing, and briefly thought about describing my learning progress and work experience through the years. However, I also want to keep the topics here current. So, I’ve decided to skip ahead (way ahead) to where I am today.
What have I learned most recently about the use of GIS in the planning field? I have been spending an extraordinary amount of time on Twitter for the last several months. This IS a good thing. Since I finished my graduate degree, and haven’t spent any time in a classroom in over 6 years, I have become increasingly aware of my isolation as a sole proprietor in a home office. I have been fortunate that my workload has kept me very busy, even through the recent economic meltdown. But, it has also kept me from getting out and keeping up with some of the advancements in the GIS world. In the fast-paced ever-changing world of technology, that is NOT a good thing. In order to overcome my sense of isolation, and to promote my business, I decided to increase my online presence.

Enter > Twitter

There has been a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of Twitter usage in the work place, and the jury is still out (for most people, anyway) on whether the benefits yet outweigh the costs. For myself, I believe Twitter has been a net benefit.
I’d like to describe why I feel this way through an example. A few weeks ago, there was a series of posts (or tweets) about the use of the term NeoGeography to describe recent advancements in the GIS world. In an attempt to describe NeoGeography, the concept of PaleoGeography was also discussed. While these terms are not new (see the Wikipedia article: There was a significant increase in the chatter on Twitter about the use of these terms. Some tweets were an attempt at definitions of the terms. Some were condemnations of the attempt to label GIS practitioners using particular technologies as new vs. old. Some were expressions of distaste for labels in general, and resulted in the new self applied label – GeoAgnostic.

My take on the whole discussion is this

(modified from a series of tweets on the subject):

The prefix Neo (new), is often associated with “good” while Paleo (old), with “outdated” or “bad”. While I disagree with this association, I can understand why some GIS/Geography professionals don’t want to label their work or themselves as Neo or Paleo. However, I don’t think GeoAgnostic is quite the right term, either. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word agnosis or “without knowledge”. It is usually used in a religious sense, to describe someone who feels the existence of God is impossible to prove, therefore unknowable, and therefore not worth bothering with. I don’t think any of those using the term GeoAgnostic truly feel this way about their chosen profession. My thinking is this: The Root word of agnosis is gnosis, or “knowledge”. Specifically it refers to knowledge gained through personal experience, not just taught by someone else. Again, in the religious sense, Gnostics were early Christians that believed they could grow closer to God by questioning and learning everything you could about your faith. In my view, we should all try to be GeoGnostics, praising and evangelizing the benefits of GeoGnostisism. We should encourage new Geography/GIS professionals to question and test everything, be open to new ideas, and learn as much as possible through direct experience.

What does all of this have to do with my perceived net benefit of using Twitter? Twitter makes me think. Were it not for Twitter, I never would have thought about the whole Neo vs. Paleo thing. I never would have heard the various viewpoints from GIS professionals, government agency officials, and students from a half dozen counties, and three different continents. It allowed me to post a few comments in a very informal way, and get some feedback on how others felt about those comments. I learned, not from a book, but through my own actions and experience. I became more GeoGnostic.
This is just one small example of how Twitter has helped me grow. There are hundreds more I could list. Some small and insignificant, some more substantial, but all of them, important. Twitter allows me to push the envelope with my thinking. Do I ever go too far? Absolutely, but when I do, someone always points it out in a friendly way, and I reel myself back in.

And as for the “label” thing? You can call me a

If you’d like to read up on some of the Neo vs. Paleo discussion, I suggest checking out these sites:
Peter Batty’s blog posts about NeoGeography:
James Fee’s blog post on Neo, Geo, GIS and Innovation: