The Internet Needs You-Are-Here Maps

By Deb Roy and Nabeel Gillani

Many of us remember the feeling of running into a museum as a child, excited by the vast space and seemingly infinite possibility of finding that obscure dinosaur, or species of fish, or whatever it was that brought us there. No matter how many times we might have visited the building, seeing the giant museum map with the bright red “you-are-here” sticker was grounding. It even helped us discover new exhibits or other places that we may have glossed over. The museum was a vast space, but the map was always there to help us locate ourselves, orient ourselves in relation to our surroundings, and ultimately navigate to a constructive place (mostly) without losing our way.

Today, we spend much of our time in an exceedingly vast and complex environment: the internet. Yet most of us have very little idea of its extent, topology, dimensions, or which parts we have—and haven’t—visited. We are in it without really knowing where. Because birds of a feather flock together, we often ensconce ourselves in bubbles with others who share our political, social, and cultural experiences and beliefs. This is natural, and often valuable: Creating shared spaces fosters a sense of belonging, mutual solidarity, support, and even protection against “tyrannies of the majority.”

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