In a dog’s net

Cool ideas tucked into part one of this CBC Ideas series about how (we think) dogs think: Dogs, they say, think in maps informed with their smell. They sniff and resniff a location to find out what has been there and they sniff the air to tell the future: to discover what will be here or where they will go next. Thus, they say, dogs have a different sense of “now.” Unlike our eyes, which take in what is visible and apparent at this moment, their noses can sense the past — who and what was here and what’s decaying underneath — and the future of a place — what’s coming, just upwind. Dogs are microprocessors, they say, and their noses feed their data bases.

It strikes me that the net — particularly the mobile net — is building a dog’s map of the world. Through Foursquare, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Maps, Layar, Goggles, and on and on, we can look at a place and see who and what was here before, what happened here, what people think of this place. Every place will tell a story it could not before, without a nose to find the data about it and a data base to store it and a mind to process it.

On the same show, canine Boswell Jon Katz argues that dogs respond to changes in their map: “hmmm, those sheep aren’t usually there and don’t usually do that and so I’d better check it out to (a) fix it or (b) update my map.” Dogs deal in anomalies. So do data-based views of the world: we know what happened in the past and so we know what to expect in the future until we don’t. Exceptions and changes prove rules.


  • Now that almost everyone’s given upon the idea that a huge, as-of-yet unsatisfied demand for hyperlocal news will save journalism, they seem to have decided that a huge, as-of-yet unsatisfied demand for data will save journalism.

    Mark me down as a sceptic, please. Just as I never saw a huge audience yearning for hyperlocal, I don’t see a huge audience longing for data. Of course data is valuable when it’s valuable, but the same examples of successful data journalism are cited again and again in an exception-proves-the-rule situation.

  • johnnl

    You’re talking about the location-centric view of this data. There is also the people-centric view. Dogs also sniff each other, so maybe each can tell where the other has been. Location-based services go even further: they can guestimate what people will do next. The commercial implications are obvious: when I meet my (potential) customer, I can see where s/he has been and perhaps even where s/he will go next. This opens up a lot of possibilities. I think that unfortunately this is also the part that people find ‘creepy’. I haven’t figured out exactly why that is. Personally I think that location data is generally not something to be nervous about, it’s simply not personal enough.

  • Bob

    The dog is adorable,—3/ and if I recall from Sunday School, that we should watch the animals and they will show us how to live!

  • I thought on the Internet nobody knew we were dogs?

  • Is the “net” already too big and complex to try and describe it as a dog’s breakfast -oops, sorry – map?

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