In its early days, the Internet was organized as a codified mirror image of life on earth. This implied a sharp distinction between activities in cyberspace and those in real life. Today, however, this distinction is no longer so sharp since digital services relate much more to our actual everyday lives and to the physical, geographical reality we live in. As a result, maps are enriched with all sorts of (real-time) data, and they are increasingly becoming our gateways to the Internet.
Despite the fact that the Internet infrastructure itself is earthbound, we used to associate “going online” with a trip into cyberspace, a different reality. Indeed, terms like digital cities, chatrooms, web space, and the very idea of Second Life underscore how the early Internet was thought of as an alternative to real life in virtual environments. With digitization moving from mere information and media content to real-life and location based services, the Internet is becoming increasingly relevant in our everyday lives and practices. This also means that the line between the digital and the physical (geographical) sphere is becoming more and more blurred. Intriguingly, the term ‘cloud’ also hints at this return to Earth: the web is no longer located in outer (cyber)space, but in our atmosphere.Consequently, (digital) maps are changing from static representations of our physical environment into dynamic interfaces between us and our physical and social environment. They provide us with relevant and context specific information, depending on our location, time, and intentions. Such data includes real-time location-based information on traffic, the weather, and other consumers’ whereabouts and activities. Practically, this also means that maps are becoming our inroads into the Internet as we go online to find information about things and places specifically in relation to a location on a map. In fact, in doing so, maps already present an advanced form of Augmented Reality as we look at our world through the lens of these enriched and living maps that provide a layer of information presented on top of our own experiences and observations.The information provided through these living maps stems from us as users, i.e. information that we provide passively through our activities, whereabouts, and what we actively provide by writing comments and reviews and executing searches and clicks, etc. However, at the same time, the information is produced by our environment because all kinds of objects are becoming digitized and sensory. These living maps and the information and insights they produce are also more and more performative: they tell us where to go and what to do. Most of this will take place in a relatively subtle and nudging fashion, but developments such as geofencing suggest that living maps will increasingly enforce specific forms of behavior from our devices and ultimately ourselves.