The concept of “Thick Mapping”, as described by Presner, Shephard, and Kawano, is simultaneously an intriguing and terrifying idea. Thick Mapping, as well as HyperCities, poses an appealing theory for representing historical relations in the digital age. According to Presner et al., Thick Mapping would enable the user to experience a multi-layered interpretation of events with all the texture and vibrancy of that time. The “Map” would always remain incomplete, and never reach a definite truth. Instead, it would posit a visual argument for a particular idea, hope, desire, bias, prejudice, etc.
Creating a “HyperCity”, i.e., a constantly growing and changing interactive web of events, documents, and lives in the past, is not yet a reality. The “HyperCity” would attempt to tell stories, narrate places, and produce “a new configuration of knowledge in which every past, present, and future is a place.” Developers would be curators of past places, “conjuring and caring for ghosts” (Presner et al., 15). While this idea sounds quite alluring in theory, one might worry about the possible consequences of such a research tool in action.
In Dave Eggers’ The Circle, he creates a fictional story in which the organization of “The Circle” (most likely a fusion of Google and Apple) becomes such a powerful tool of knowledge that it eventually gains omnipotence of the world. “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN” (Eggers) is the audacious motto of the organization. What if we lived in a society where there were no secrets, no privacy, no time alone? Eggers depicts a bleak and accelerating situation in which complete knowledge suddenly becomes the driving force behind all humanity. Needless to say, the result is a horrifying dystopia.
Eggers’ vision of an organization taking over the world is a far stretch from the purely academic purpose of Thick Mapping. However, it is important to consider all possible effects of a program in which all events of history are represented in an ever-changing platform of information. Plesner et al. even question their theory at the beginning: “Would it be a vision of digital democracy or a dystopia of total knowledge and control?” (Presner et al., 13).