With the new Hi app, users can submit stories or pictures of any spot.
Once, not very long ago, a map was an objective chart of a place. A person could point to a spot on a map and see herself as a tiny speck—or a point not visible at all—in the vast layout of geography. A map showed space that you could land on, like a thumbtack piercing a poster.
Now, a map is something else. In a world of GPS and smart phones, maps show how space extends from us. You are the central dot—the center of the universe—and all roads and restaurants and banks exist in relation to your coordinates. Navigation has become something more like self-awareness.
Hi—a new app by designer-publisher Craig Mod and Chris Palmieri, founder of the Tokyo-based design firm AQ—brings this to an even higher level of self-reflection, which they call "narrative mapping." Not just a dot, a point on their map represents a "moment," which Hi defines as a snippet of text and a photograph linked to location. One can return to this moment after it has passed to expand on an original "sketch" with a more complete description, "extended" text, of up to 10,000 words.
The moment is published and shared on a collective map visible to other Hi users. The result is a new kind of navigation tool, not a guide exactly, but a way to get someone else’s bearings and perspectives on a place, as each moment is published and shared on a collective map visible to other Hi users. I can click on a link to visit Seoul, South Korea, by way of a photograph taken from inside a stranger’s car, and the message "Stopped by a red light on a not so typical crossroad." I can look out someone else’s front window just as I might point to a spot on a spinning globe.
Hi's founders hope that by combining my subjective city, with yours and your neighbors', and a person who is just visiting for a day, we'll get a more complete picture of the places we occupy. For now, Hi's founders have made the app is invitation only, with a follower-type system that allows users to ask for more details about a place—compelling you to deliberate on the moments you have posted. In a way, it's a perfect map for the selfie age—now that we can look at a map to find ourselves, we can also present ourselves to that map as a form of expression.
"Within you exists a general mapping of New York City that’s different from my mapping of New York City," Mod wrote in a manifesto introducing the app. "Your NYC street corners, storefronts, and river benches feel — psychically, emotionally — different than my street corners. Though physically, they’re the same. Hi helps us surface, layer, and share these narrative maps. Maps concerned with your corner in NYC or maps concerned with the protests after a trial or the energy in a city square after political upheaval."
Cities are engineered for this. In a city, you see and you are seen; you run into neighbors and your dots intersect, your stories collide. In literature and on social media, these interactions are recorded sporadically, sometimes masterfully, but rarely with the visual orientation a map provides. "To narrative map the world you need to capture the world," Mod wrote. But this isn’t so easy for everyone as it was for, say, James Joyce, who did just that for Dublin, in Ulysses. We have Instagram and Facebook and Twitter; devices to record, save, or delete. Hi, says Mod, is meant "to push us from seeing to noticing."
With that, each little description of a scene, each artifact (like this traditional quilt from a log cabin in Canada), plots time and place. It’s an ethnographic exercise, at heart: a way of seizing upon instances of culture, for posterity—your own and others. And although this won't guide you through a city, it allows you to track the geography of experience within a real space. Anything it takes to get us to look up from the screens we carry around, and feel a part of the streets on which we’re standing.