1During conversations I am frequently asked where this or that place can be found. Such questions usually arise in some magazine or TV show, and the questioners are generally surprised if I do not know the answer! “You must know, since you are a geographer!” – To this I regularly react by saying “tell me where it is and I will tell you why it is there!” In my opinion this is one of the essential differences between the scientific and ordinary approaches to geographic problems.
- 1 It is also a common conception today in Hungarian public education (among students, parents and tea (...)
- 2 It is not by coincidence that the enrichment of geographical knowledge and the emergence of new dir (...)
2For more than two thousand years, the task of geographers has been to understand and describe the geographic environment and the spatial processes in it. Geographic research could only be characterized by this descriptive feature for a long time1. The desire to discover and learn about ’terra incognita’, the unknown terrain in detail has resulted in the scientific foundation and flowering of geography2. These events in the history of mankind can characteristically be linked to colonization or the great geographic discoveries. The exploitation of the natural resources of the area required a thorough knowledge of physical geography, while the conquest of the population of the conquered areas as well as the maintenance of domination mainly demanded knowledge of social and economic geography.
- 3 These represent the top level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Learning about and surveying the envi (...)
3To enrich our geographical knowledge, one of the first questions we asked was “what exists and where?” Such questions have been of great significance since the time of early man, through the ages of the great explorers and conquerors to today3. However, the three-part question what, where and why? – could only arise at a higher stage of human-social evolution. Therefore, the beginnings of geographical thinking are not to be considered as the product of an artificially created science but as an “amusement of mental nature” that is the same age as mankind (Cséfalvay, 1990)
- 4 These are the two lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the demand for physiological and sa (...)
4These first two questions can relatively easily be answered. True enough that the content of the answer depends on the number of the members of each social group, the size of the geographical area they occupy and the technique of conveying information (its quantitative and qualitative features), but the question can be answered. In the primitive communal system, a group of the size of a horde had some ten members. Within the ‘slice of place’ of some square kilometres they occupied (possessed) they barely exceed the level needed for handling and conveying their individual pieces of information. This is the lowest level of the levels of needs4. Since man is basically a social being, the individual questioning and answering can only be interpreted in the initial phase if somebody from the group finds out the solution. A short time after this, he or she conveys the information gained to the other members of the group.
- 5 The more the number of members of a group or of a society increases, the greater its demand for spa (...)
5Accepting that “a group reaches as far as information reaches” (Wiener, 1974), means accepting that as social groups increase a more and more advanced technology of handling information becomes necessary. Otherwise it is not only the geographical pieces of information gained that get isolated from each other but answering the third question also becomes uncertain due to the disintegration of social cohesion – essentially the collective information-database5. “The degree of the homeostasis of small communities in close connection is considerably high: and this is true both for highly educated communities in civilized countries and for villages of primitive wildlife” (Wiener, 1974). The greater a community is, the more difficult it becomes to maintain homeostasis. “In a society which is too great for its members to directly contact one another”, informational target tools and procedures as well as target organizations supporting information handling (in the case of further growth) are established to maintain homeostasis. The greater whole “is held together by the possession of devices for gaining, using, storing and conveying information” (Wiener, 1974).
- 6 It is Thornstein Veblen (1857-1929) a Norwegian-American sociologist-economist who is the first to (...)
6Following Wiener’s line of thought: the advancement of communication and information handling technology generates social cohesion. Nowadays it is provided by global ICT networks – and the organizations related to these. Some consider this as a kind of technological determinism which mankind must go through (Hoyer, 2001). In accordance with most researchers, however, I would rather argue for the neutrality of technological devices6. The advancement of society and the ethos accepted about the geographical environment surrounding society are naturally determined not only by the size of populations, but by the cultural standard or the technological development itself. The situation is more complex than this. We should imagine such a cyclical process in which cultural and educational development determines technological development, which determines economic development, which determines social development, which then determines cultural and educational development, etc (Z. Karvalics, 2002; Castells, 1998).
7The answer to the third question – why –, however, does not merely depend on the number of the groups or of the group members, but rather on the quantity, quality of the information possessed and on the technology of information handling (this is primarily a question of method and only partly a question of technology). The answer to the “whys” requires logical operations far more complex than the linear cause-and-effect relations of the first two questions.
- 7 The Nile region: Sothis the starter of the Nile flooding, Hapi the god of the Nile, Anuket the prot (...)
- 8 The Greek colonization (in the basin of the Mediterranean Sea) also resulted in advancing geography (...)
- 9 It worked mainly within the frame of philosophy and history. The advancement of the science was fur (...)
8There are, naturally, several alternative ways of explaining geographical phenomena. One of the basic solutions is rational-logical, the other is religious-mythological (Cséfalvay, 1990). For instance, phenomena such as the plains fertilized as a result of flooding rivers, a volcanic eruption or the changes in the water-level of the sea can be described with a sequence of measurable and (mathematically) calculable physical processes. The answers provided from a religious point of view – determined by one divinity or another –, however, significantly simplify the explanations of certain phenomena. It can also be stated that geographical thinking results in answers much simpler, easier and more schematized within a religious-mythological frame, since the answers are assigned to one (or more than one) divinity, who simply arrange them using their divine power7. The developed world educated by the European culture, however, prefers answers that fit in the rational-logical frame. The roots of this can primarily be found in the flourishing Greek culture8. This type of traditional geographical thinking existed mainly in the 19th, partly until the middle of the 20th century. The primary reason for this is that geography was not an independent science until the 19th century9.
- 10 The initial impetus was given by Fred K. Schaefer: Exceptionalism in geography: A Methodological Ex (...)
- 11 Under Norbert Wiener and Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s inspiration.
9The independence of geography in the first half of the 19th century, however, meant survival, which had its price. New branches of science emerged from geography, which had been considered as associate science until that time, and geography preserved its descriptive character. As opposed to this traditional geography, there were Bacon’s analytical research methods, Galilei and Descartes’ laws of nature and Newton’s mathematically described mechanical ethos. “The new scientific ideology had in fact nothing to do with traditional geography. The description of the spatial order of the world could not meet the standard of scientism, for this it would have needed mechanical-causal relations and laws represented by exact mathematical formulae” (Cséfalvay, 1990). The answers to the whys and explanations with scientific demand were given by the new branch of geography, quantitative geography10. From the 1930-40s on, the view of systems related to this becomes stronger and stronger. This is what becomes dominant in geographical researches, too: the study of spatial systems11. Within geography, in fact, an unlimited number of systems may be created, although it becomes unworkable. In order to solve this insolvable problem – according to which quantitative geography should explain and describe our chaotic world with the help of the theory of systems – model-creation (so-called model-geography) was born.
10The great change of geography, discarding the descriptive character, proved to be successful. Quantitative geography “freed itself from extreme verbalism, from the positivist question ‘what exists and where’” (Cséfalvay, 1990). In the quantitative models based on strict mathematical and mainly economic laws it is space that shapes man, and man obeys the laws of the geographical environment. In the rationally designed space man is also shapable, which was in perfect harmony with the ideology of the era after World War II. The reason why this direction could not stay dominant was that geography did not free itself only from extreme verbalism – due to the quantitative revolution –, but it also ignored the main character of spatial processes: man.
- 12 Kevin Lynch: The image of the city (1960), Edward T. Hall: The hidden dimension (1966).
- 13 Many ask the question: is this psychology or still geography? In fact, it is both.
11The counter-attack came soon. Quantitative geographical ideology was replaced by human-centred geographical ideology. In the second half of the 20th century, the “behaviourist revolution” questioned basic geographical axioms. The ancient Euclidean – solid geometry and Newton’s physical-mathematical interpretations relate to an objectively describable, rationally built, 3D space. The scientific studies of geography have been based on this for the past two thousand years. As opposed to this, the papers published after the 1960s present a subjective interpretation of space, its unique mental mapping12. Downs soon realizes that “the geographical study of the perception of space is merely a part of a more general advancement of geography, namely of the behaviourist revolution, which is obviously going to replace the disappearing quantitative revolution…” (Downs, 1970). The behaviourist revolution, the modern revival of geography has not yet been completed. From the second half of the 20th century, human-centred geographical directions have been born as the spatial behaviour, space-forming activity and space-forming role of man have been placed in the foreground13. The direction which is the same age as the behaviourist revolution, but which flourished at the turn of the 20th and the 21st centuries, is the geography of the information society. The bases of one of the youngest research direction, which seems to permanently stay in the centre of attention, were undoubtedly laid down by quantitative analysts.
- 14 Csatári B., Kanalas I., Mészáros R., Nagy G., Rechnitzer J., Sinka R. et al.
12When studying today’s spatial and social dynamics, the interdisciplinary state of geography is more significant and needed than ever. At present in Hungary, the study of the information society by geographical ideology is not entirely neglected, but leastways it mirrors the field of interest of a restricted professional circle14. Nevertheless, the professional discourse has begun, and, although it is most frequently sociological, philosophical and technological approaches that are presented, the geography of the information society, as well as its new kind of methodology, terminology and typology are taking form. Geographers are trying to define the processes-phenomena in both the physical and the virtual world, and to describe the relation of geography to the information society, as a research area.
- 15 (Wiener, 1974) – Norbert Wiener (1896-1964), mathematician.
- 16 In this, geography partly marries again: applying the results of sociology (Manuel Castells), mathe (...)
- 17 Sociological directions allowed studying spatial relations in the relation system of the spatial be (...)
- 18 The stages of cognitive mapping: perception (gathering information from the environment) – orientat (...)
13The “Fall” of geography with other branches of science is not a new phenomenon16. The marriage with psychology made the interdisciplinary state of the science even stronger, the openness with which it is capable of incorporating and fertilizing new things. The child has been named behaviourist geography17. Compared to quantitative ideology, the human-centred geography provided new answers. Naturally, it is not possible to approach and explain everything from the aspect of perception and sensation. After perception, the information perceived is handled – according to individual schemata –, which leads to a much more subjective mental image about our environment (it is essentially a cognitive map)18.
Figure 1: The model of environment perception according to “behaviourist revolution”
following Downs from: Cséfalvay, 1990
- 19 Norbert Wiener’s group levels based on information communities can be divided into four levels: lev (...)
14On the basis of the figure (Figure 1), we can imagine a cycle in the course of which the world perceived by our sense organs passes through our own subjective filter. We create a unique mental image about the world around us using the information gathered from our environment. This mental image of the world formed in us determines our decisions, i.e. our spatial behaviour and activities. Our activities change our environment, too. Therefore, the process is nothing other than a cycle that never returns to itself. The mental image created about our geographical environment is not only determined by perception itself, but also by the number of people who perceive a given space and by the kind of ethos that is formed for a given community about it. It is not the perception of the individual, but that of the group that becomes dominant. The mental image created about the environment is the product of a community. The information gathered and evaluated by the individuals are added by each group in the community, the whole society forms one information community19.
- 20 We can talk about a real global ethos after the appearance of the information society built on info (...)
15In the course of his physical and intellectual evolution, man has occupied greater and greater areas, and has formed greater and greater communities there. The kinds of ethos formed from the “parts of space” known, used and occupied by given societies (information communities) are summarized in the table below20 (Table 1).
Table 1: Eras, societies, kinds of ethos
Form of society
Community formula (number of members from-to)
Fishing – hunting – gathering society
Group of big families (50-150)
Village communities (150-8000)
Town/association of towns (4000-4 million)
National/regional (8 million – 2 billion)
National/multiregional (800 million – 4 billion) or Global (?)
Global or interplanetary (info-planetary?)
*the author’s complementation
Z. Karvalics, 2002; Sinka, 2004
- 21 Spatial isolation can occur both in the real and virtual space.
- 22 Human interface is a mental ability with the help of which an individual (being a single entity) as (...)
- 23 In 2007 a NETIS survey was carried out in Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and United Kingdom. On (...)
16It becomes apparent from the table that the size and scope of the geographical environment cognisable by a given era are closely related to the number of members of the community that constitutes the given society and is organized in the social space. This also means that the population-groups organized in the relative space, and their distribution (in the geographical environment) determines the kind of ethos that is formed in the given group. The contrary may also be true. The ethos of a relatively small community organized in a developed society may significantly differ from the average, which is typically associated with spatial isolation21. The (permanent or ad hoc) relative spatial shapes of the population-groups are determined by the physical and virtual features of the information networks from physical aspect (technological determinism). From the aspect of the community, these are determined by the number of the members of the population who possess a suitable interface (human interface)22. According to Wiener’s axiom “a community reaches as far as information reaches”, which does not exclusively refer to a facet to face (F2F) relation in the global informational or knowledge societies, but it reaches as far as the social space reaches due to the ICT devices. Considering also Wiener’s axiom I believe that the advancement of geographical thinking is basically determined by how great (the number of the members of) the given population-group is, by the size of the (absolute and relative) space occupied by the group, as well as by the form-method of the information handling technology within a group and between groups23.
- 24 Relational thinking: It refers to the way in which we think about differences and similarities (whe (...)
17Geographers are primarily interested in the spatial arrangement of the studied space, the dynamics of the phenomena and processes in it. A new research area does not directly involve a change of paradigm, but it requires the extension of the existing terminology and typology. Geography has also created its own terminology during its development. In accordance with Jackson’s groups of concepts, the most important, so-called key concepts in geography are space and place; scale and proximity; proximity and distance; relational thinking24 (Jackson, 2006). Among these, the concepts probably most frequently used by researchers during their work are: place, location and space. These concepts are interesting because they are also part of the ordinary language. Their development and interpretation progressed simultaneously with the advancement of human thinking and human societies.
18Today’s society built on info-communication technologies is changing day by day. Social changes do not leave spatial processes unaffected, either; in addition, professional- and scientific fields (that had not even existed before) are beginning to use newer and newer geographical terms the application of which would have at least been considered heresy earlier. The discourse of the geographical terms and terminology of the informational era started in the past few decades. Due to the almost 5-million-year development of geographical thinking and the more than two-thousand-year advancement of the science of geography, geography – it seems at least – slowly finds itself again.
19From among the approaching methods of the past few decades – made mainly by social scientists –, following Frank Webster’s five-party-division (1995), the discourse levels below can be mentioned:
- 25 This fact is also supported by the competitions commenced in this topic, the research reports of mu (...)
20(1) Most researches of the information society focus on technology and are based on the technocrat ideology25. “Technology is independent, active, determinant, culture and the ego of man are subordinate, passive and are only able to react” (Mészáros, 2003). The central question is the spreading rate, role and weight, spatial orientation and dynamics of the new info-communication technology (ICT – Information and Communication Technologies): ICT as the infrastructure of the global information society. These research findings only rarely affect the positive-negative effects of the spreading of this technology in the way as the society, individual, natural environment or economy. They do not mention the changes in quality and space, either.
21(2) Researchers of social sciences have also established a significant base in this topic aimed at analyzing and studying the statistical data of economy and employment structure. The most important set of questions is centred on the role ICT plays in production, its internal convergence, the weight of human resources using such technology, the appearance of new type of trades and knowledge related to it.
- 26 An example from abroad: Information Society Index Research on the website of IDC: <http://www.idc.c (...)
22(3) When studying either the technological or economic and employment structures, the so-called critical mass studies as well as the calculations related to the level of advancement of the information society play an important role (Information Society Index)26.
23(4) Economic globalization – among others – does not leave the values of the classical national culture untouched, either. The interdependency between the culture diffused by the economy and the media becomes stronger, the vapour of which precipitates as the determinant process of the society of the informational era. People change their habits, modify their social relations, take up new customs in the field of e.g. getting information, systematization, storing and recycling; they basically change their whole lifestyle. In Castells’ words “… man is essentially Self, that is identity-centred, which is bound to a locality, namely place, thus is culturally defined. Man, man-power cannot follow the global movement of money and work places, for instance. The opposition of the Net and the Self represents the new power that organizes the new society. The role of the real space is gradually taken over by the space of flows related to the networks, where “money-horse-gun” is flowing, namely everything that is important and valuable” (Castells, 1996). Media – and the related ICT – offer not only the schema of the true-false picture of the world, the lifestyle according to economic-political interests, but also the world in the form of a virtual reality not known until today.
24(5) The transformation of space structure– I believe – is the most exciting research area for geographers. “Theories place the networks of towns, the globalizing world in the centre of research again (Castells, 1998), like foreign xenoliths included in the space of the industrial society. The major questions of the theoretical approach refer to how man’s spatial ties change. Does the operation of the world follow the logic of a network; does global society exist, can it evolve? What is the inner logic of the network: who is in it and why? What social-economic capital is needed to enter and stay in the network? What is the inner system of relations like and what is the role of the new informational communicational technologies in it?” (Pintér, 2004).
- 27 An example for this is when the relief, soil mechanics, dense vegetation or protected natural value (...)
25Geographical studies of space are always analyzed considering their interrelations and the phenomena in them. The geography of an information society is to seize and analyze phenomena and processes that involve the social changes outlined above. These space elements are complex social – economic – political products, some of the elements are stable, others are reproduced from time to time and only rarely in identical form (relative space constructions), occasionally bearing natural-environmental features of outstanding importance27.
- 28 For instance: technical / physical / material space, social space, subjective / philosophical / psy (...)
- 29 The system of relations, centre, direction, the perceptional and action process of place, space and (...)
26The ISS, Information Society Space is extremely complex and rather immature considering its study methods; it essentially allows only problem-, and profession-centred approaches. We do not always understand its interrelations, therefore we frequently seize only some of its details and unique phenomena. The study of the GISS, Geography of Information Society Space is thus a synthesizing, complex analysis. This space is not uniform, and it cannot be called homogeneous considering the internal structure of its space elements, either. Several of its elements, which can independently be studied and can be divided into units,28 are all building blocks of the global geographical information social space, in which we are capable of social-economic activities. The space that can be manipulated by man is extending periodically, along the Kondratiev-cycles if you prefer, anyway its extension is extremely fast and its size is info-planetary29. By today, the human manipulation of space has overreached our planet, and is aiming at the solar system. In my opinion, the geographical space of the information society ranges as far as man’s space-manipulating ability and defines the quasi-plastic space of ISS.
27Due to the advancing of human-centred geography and the behaviourist revolution, this ’ethos’ ideology is a ’return’ to the geocentric ethos model, which does not necessarily involve stepping back. Moreover, it confirms the train of thought according to which the heliocentric ethos is significant only in a physical-astronomical sense, and it involves natural determinism less and less. Man’s living-space is, in theory, unlimited on our planet. The news says that life may soon be discovered on the Moon and Mars. Globalized, quasi-plastic space forms appear on the Earth and in the outer space depending on where man and/or the ICT created by man can be found. Global economy overpasses the national economic-political plans, overthrows the traditional location theories, and it regularly ignores the qualification level of the workforce, either. What would Johann Heinrich von Thünen (the father of location theory) say to this?
28The length of the paper did not allow a detailed discussion of the influence of certain ICT devices on geographical thinking; rather, it searched for an answer to the question whether the process of perceiving, experiencing human space is in any connection with the basic techniques/schemes of conveying information. Does the development of human societies affect the way we see the world today? Are there milestones that the developmental stages of geographical thinking can be connected to? Is there a change of paradigm in geographical thinking or are we merely witnessing the rebirth of an old paradigm?
- 30 Bakis & Roche 1997, Bakis 2001, Mészáros 2000, Sinka 2004 et al.
29The historical overview might help us understand the stages of the development of geographical thinking from the traditional geographical approach up to the present. The changes during the progress “from a revolution to another” could relatively easily be placed in the traditional geographical setting. The changes brought about by infocommunication technologies, however, created new categories of space unknown so far, to which the researchers also had to form the appropriate concepts of space30. “The science of geography is far from being exhausted and is concerned not only with physical phenomena: it has begun to explore the geographical space of the 21st century, i.e. the ’geocyberspace’ (Bakis, 2001).”
- 31 An approach similar to, and almost identical with Bakis’s concept of geocyberspace.
30Our traditional environment is being taken over by a new spatial form, the Information Society Space (ISS), also including the cyberspace created by modern technologies31. The artificial space forms, space creations and the social groups emerging in them are in each case built on real spatial bases (Bakis & Roche, 1997). They are described with geographical metaphors and space categories also used in physical geography (Mészáros, 2000). Our common geographical concepts help us find our way in the virtual world of modern devices; meanwhile our new, virtual identity must also be created unnoticed. However, it is only those who know and apply the information devices and procedures created in order to maintain the social homeostasis that are capable of implementing their existing (physical) identity in the virtual space – i.e. capable of existing in a space more complex than the earlier one (Wiener, 1974). This basically requires the knowledge of the techniques of modern information handling. Today, the vast majority of information, including geographical information, is conveyed via ICT devices, and they very often precede physical perception. Bakis appropriately says that by using various media and telecommunication devices, the central role in establishing the rhythm and relations in society is increasingly played by time rather than by distance (Bakis & Roche, 1997).
31This figure below schematizes the progress of geographical thinking from one revolution to another (Sinka, 2008). A new research area does not directly involve a change of paradigm, but it requires the extension of the existing terminology and typology.
Figure 2: “From a revolution to another”
The appearance of a new phenomenon within the history of geographical thinking: the influence of ICT
Cséfalvay, 1990; Sinka, 2008
32In the last phase lots of question-marks can be found. On the basis of the foregoing researches it can be presumed that the geographical environment will be determined by the Information Society Space. Geographical space will contain both real and virtual identities. These spatial identities cannot be separated precisely. The spatial behaviour and activity will be directed by the methods of information handling. Researching the geographical environment, the geographer will be an insider and an outsider at the same time. Therefore, it can be concluded that the study of the GISS, Geography of Information Society Space is thus a synthesizing, complex analysis. This space is not uniform, and it cannot be called homogeneous considering the internal structure of its space elements, either. The space that can be manipulated by man is extending periodically, along the Kondratiev-cycles or in accordance with Wiener’s information-community levels. Its extension is extremely fast and its size is info-planetary. Due to ICT today, the human manipulation of space has overreached our planet, and is aiming at the solar system. The geographical space of the information society ranges as far as man’s space-manipulating ability and defines the quasi-plastic (relative) space of ISS (Sinka, 2004).