>Absolute and Relative Location and Distance


In the field of geography we distinguish between absolute and relative location and distance. I did a workshop with a colleague from the field of art and design on developing interdisciplinary courses. Our approach was to each pick one map to talk about.

My map was one of absolute location and distance at street level. It was a street map of Kowloon that hangs on my wall. I put stickers on the places where I have walked. That way I can see parts of Kowloon that I haven’t visited and explore further. Distance on the map reflected distance in reality. Directions were accurate as well.

My colleague put up the MTR map that showed the various stops. It was a map of relative location–points relative to one another. Cardinal directions and distance were not accurate to reality. Graphically it is an example of excellent design.

I take a detailed book of streets maps with me everywhere. My colleague takes her MTR map and gets a general idea of direction from a particular stop. Both of us come from visual disciplines, but our perspectives are different.

OK–so these are interesting ideas, but what is their relevance to negotiating daily life?

I had to participate in a video conference between a group in the U.S. and myself. Since it was a larger group on that end, they wanted to use a system that would be flexible enough to let me see the entire group but also zoom in to one person at a time–skype was out. The organization on the other end requested that I go to a local facility. (Hong Kong is high tech and using this type of technology is part of regular life here.) They sent me a list of 3 sites that were quite close in absolute distance from my apartment–

Option #1: Central Hong Kong Island–8.8 miles away
Option #2: Shenzhen–10 miles away
Option #3: Macao–33 miles away

In absolute terms, these seemed like reasonable choices, other than taking into account that it would be 9 p.m. for me while 8 a.m. for those in the U.S. But then driving home at 10 or 11 p.m. for 8-30 miles is not such a big problem.

It is a short train ride to Shenzhen. However, going to Shenzhen would require a visa since it is across the border in mainland China–border crossing leaving Hong Kong and border crossing entering mainland China. It would take me one afternoon to stand in line to apply for the visa on Hong Kong Island and another afternoon to pick it up, plus the two border crossings each way. A VERY long 10 miles.

Macao may be only 33 miles away, but it is 33 miles of water that requires a 90 minute ferry ride. And while you don’t need a visa, you do have to go through immigration for Hong Kong and Macao. A two day adventure for a 9 p.m. meeting of one hour.

The Hong Kong Island option could have worked–but it would take me 45 minutes each way to get to Hong Kong Island with the subway and walk to find the right building at night–I live on the mainland side of Hong Kong. But at least it would be within the same political boundaries, even if across the harbor.

I downloaded the software and had the video conference at my dining room table. Absolute and relative location and distance: 0 miles

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