Back when I was a high school student, I was an editor for the school newspaper. Of course, high school newspapers are trivial in the grand scheme of things, but I still remember what it felt like to look over my own work (as well as the work of my peers). I deeply enjoyed it. I could easily sit at my desk for hours and fret over the tiniest of grammatical errors or a particular phrase that just didn’t sound quite right. I remember the feeling of elation I had when I finally figured out how to concisely express my ideas exactly the way I intended. As cliche as this may sound, it was like a lightbulb turned on in my head and I was ecstatic to have figured it all out.
It has been a while since I’ve experienced that feeling in college, though I’ve tried my best to re-capture that feeling in the papers I’ve written for my emergency management classes. The problem is this: many of the papers I’ve written for emergency management classes didn’t give me the same creative spark. The purpose of many of those papers was simply to re-organize information about the given disaster I was studying. (Though I did have some fun writing a paper where I placed the Centralia coal disaster in Akron. We were supposed to choose an atypical disaster for a given area and Akron doesn’t have anthracite coal mines in this area, but I digress.)
I’ve begun to re-capture that feeling of elation in my current GIS class. Unlike its predecessor, this class features a couple of large projects and that’s it. No tests, no stupid clicker quizzes, and no pointless exercises. Just minimal direction from the professor and the freedom to do whatever I see fit. I’ve quickly found that the motivated high school newspaper editor within is making a subtle comeback as a I’ve delved into my current mapping project. In editing maps with ArcGIS, here are a few quick thoughts on what I’ve discovered:
- All the elements of the map must work together, in unison, to accomplish the same goal as a book, essay, or other written document.
- The placement, color, size, and shape of all the elements highly influences the above-mentioned uniformity.
- Even minor errors, such as the incorrect placement of a point, are truly irritating to me.
- Struggling to figure out how to accomplish a given task in the software is, for me, akin to struggling to find the right words to express my ideas in written form.
In editing spatial data for display to others, I’ve found that there is just as much benefit to being detail-oriented as there is when I edit papers for myself or others. In creating and editing my current map, I’ve found relief and excitement in the simplest of things: discovering how to remove a portion of a street that doesn’t exist anymore, moving a point from one spot to another, selecting and displaying features with categorical attributes, etc. Even building the database, which everyday users of this map do not need to see, was an exercise that brought out the red-pen wielding editor in me.
Perhaps it’s silly, but I miss that type of work and my GIS class is only highlighting that fact.