Toolbox vs. Test Tube

Wright’s investigation into the nature of GIS is like the International Baccalaureates course, Theory of Knowledge; it poses more questions than it provides answers. In response to the title of the paper, my initial reaction was that it was a clear cut, hands down, tool. From my own experience, whenever people asked what I wanted to do I would say, without hesitation, “mapping.” I have since been told that GIS is far more than mapping, but until now that is all I have ever used it for. Eventually, most conversations would turn to, “what is GIS?” Until recently, my response was always, “It’s a toolbox. Much like a hammer is to a toolbox, as Clip, and Collapse Dual to Centerline are to ArcGIS. The tools are self evident, it’s just a matter of finding what you need in the shed.” That, however, is not the case.

My experience with GIS is marginal, at best. I am an end user, who contributes little in return to the further development of the software. Therefore, for my purposes it is a tool. For others, as is seen in the informal survey conducted on GIS-L, it has a much broader range of uses. These uses, however, are laden with subjectivity. Wright points out that fields considered a science are seen as more legitimate. The sequence of the paper gives “GIS as a science” the last say. The conclusion does not overtly state it, but from the point of view of Wright et al. they aim to promote GIS as a means of acquiring legitimacy. In time, much like Computer Science, it is likely that GIS will be given the same weight. It would serve GIS, however, if it spread to more than just “phenomena on the Earth’s surface.” Until it digs deeper, it will only be scratching the surface.



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