Mapping | This American Life

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Mapping

Originally aired 09.04.1998
Five ways of mapping the world. One story about people who make maps the traditional way — by drawing things we can see. And other stories about people who map the world using smell, sound, touch, and taste. The world redrawn by the five senses.

Prologue.

Ralph Gentles and five other people spend each summer creating a map of every crack, every depression, every protrusion, every pothole in the sidewalks of New York City. We hear why, and we hear all the things their map does not include. Map making means ignoring everything in the world but the one thing being mapped, whether it's cracks in sidewalks or the homes of Hollywood stars. And, according to cartographer Denis Wood, we live in the Age of Maps: more than 99.9 percent of all the maps that have ever existed have been made in the last 100 years. (2 minutes)

Act One. Sight.

Denis Wood talks with host Ira Glass about the maps he's made of his own neighborhood, Boylan Heights in Raleigh, North Carolina. They include a traditional street locator map, a map of all the sewer and power lines under the earth's surface, a map of how light falls on the ground through the leaves of trees, a map of where all the Halloween pumpkins are each year, and a map of all the graffiti in the neighborhood. In short, he's creating maps that are more like novels, trying to describe everyday life. In 2010, Denis compiled these maps into the book Everything Sings (with a forward by Ira Glass). (4 minutes)

Act Two. Hearing.

Jack Hitt visits Toby Lester, who has mapped all the ambient sounds in his world: the hum of the heater, the fan on the computer. (5 minutes)

Song: "Way over Yonder in the Minor Key", Billy Bragg and Wilco

Act Three. Smell.

A story about a device that charts the world through smell — and only smell. TAL producer Nancy Updike visits Cyrano Sciences in Pasadena, California, where researchers are creating an electronic nose. (5 minutes)

Act Four. Touch.

Deb Monroe reports on how she has been mapping her own body through her sense of touch. (6 minutes)