This post is about secrets, puzzles, treasure, and maps*
Everyone loves a treasure hunt don’t they? For those of us growing up in Bedfordshire the story of the hunt for the Golden Hare seeped into our imaginations – a treasure hunt told through a childrens book, Masquerade by Kit Williams, with the golden prize found in Ampthill, a sleepy Bedfordshire market town. It was before my time (being published the year I was born) but the mythology surrounding it intrigued me, and still stories about the hunt surface from time to time in the national press.
There may not be golden hares buried in our towns but our iphones can reveal the hidden worlds around us.
Geocaching caught my attention a few years back. These high tech treasure hunts involve romping through places to find hidden caches which contain a mini log book and sometimes some treats to swap. You need a GPS device to find them, and when you turn on that GPS device you will be amazed to find that geocaches are all around you, some easier to find than others. Lucky for us an iphone can do the job well. There is such potential for tourist boards, country parks, schools and communities to make use of them.
Two other digital mapping applications are worthy of a look. Flook and audioboo (complementary in my view). Flook describes itself as a location browser. It encourages users to post the kind of local secret knowledge that you won’t find in the tourist information office. Audioboos allow you to attach sounds to spaces and places, or stories of course. Both allow you to attach digital data (audio clips or photographs and text) to a geographical area. Others walking through with the same application can find your information. I’ve screen-grabbed a couple of my flooks for you and inserted them above. You can also see my card stream here
So what does this mean? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? Oh dear reader, this means that we, the people can map our spaces and places in any way we like – we can share secrets, spread our local info, allow visitors to our towns to go “off piste”. It is a democratization of mapping, no less. We can create business for our local businesses, the ones who really do make the best coffee in town, we can show the sides of our towns that we are really proud of, or that intrigue us, or make us laugh. We can talk about spaces places or things with others who share our space. Things that maybe only a few people know. It is the way that people will navigate their way through new locales in the future. Local knowledge made global.
This excites me beyond measure, BUT there is a catch. I am writing this on my shiny apple mac and access flook & audioboo on my iphone. I wish I could claim that these things were as a result of my cutting edge technological coolness but alas they are not. I simply happen to have them. Others simply don’t. If we decide to harness these incredible tools we need to think about those who have the knowledge but may not have the gadget.
I am organising a ‘Hidden Bedford’ day soon. An informal gathering of people with and without iphones. I hope to gather around an actual map (made of actual paper) and ask people to think about their favourite places in the centre of our town. Patterns will emerge on that map – routes will suggest themselves, and I hope, we can match up those with the technology and those with the stories to tell. And then we go for a stroll, mapping it as we go. We will need each other. We will learn stuff. We will own our town just a little bit more.
If you would like to come, let me know.
* I have also posted this entry on my other blog so apologies to any readers of both!