top of page

Introducing Joseph Lan's "My World in Translation: A Multispecies World Map Project"

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Imagine breathing in the crisp morning air on your way to work in the Pacific Northwest. Every day you, and 50,000 others (WSF), take the Washington State Ferries to cross the Puget Sound on your way to work in Seattle — better finish that quarterly report today! Your daily commute and schedule are clockwork: Home, ferry, work, ferry, home. Today, however, you step outside for some fresh air while riding the ferry home. As you walk around topside, you see a seagull precariously perched on the handrail, and two more flying nearby. Frank, the handrail seagull, is also on his way home from work. He just spent the last five hours picking through the Seattle shallows for fish and is enjoying a free ride to his nest in Bremerton.

Here we see the interaction between two worlds. Our human world strewn with corporate and personal goals spanning local and global regions is juxtapose to the seagull world of day-to-day living. While we are enthralled in our anthropocentric lifestyle, we neglect the fact that our human species lives hand-in-hand with a multitude of different species, each existing in their own worlds alongside ours. This blatant rejection of the intercommunication between multispecies worlds can be best represented by what is on our maps— or more specifically what isn’t! Littered with streets, roads, bridges, buildings, city names, and states, our maps have a distinct un-acknowledgement of our multispecies partners on this planet. Where do the avian live in the Seattle area? What are their common flight paths across the Puget sound? Where are the spawning grounds of salmon, herring, and seaborn mammals?

As our human pursuits continues toward a more inclusive world in the 21st century — greener, cleaner, and more aware — we must collectively change our world view. Instead of thinking how best to use other species, we must focus on how to interact and live with them. As the science of our changing world leaps into the future with new technology and discoveries, we must begin to address the sociology and the social stratification of multispecies segregation.

I propose our first step begins with changing our theory of cartography, and therefore the way we see our world by interlacing our human-centered maps with the lives and worlds of our multispecies partners on this planet. Our maps must be scientifically crafted with respect to the multitude of species in each community and locale. Slowly but surely, all our maps should be built upon by each community to represent its total multispecies members. Let us start by examining the discourse community comprised of Puget Sound ferry commuters. This group epitomizes a healthy multispecies relationship in the pursuit of a simple common goal: To utilize the Washington State Ferry system in order to traverse the Puget Sound for work and play.

A cursory look at this community may lead you to believe it is comprised of only human characters — commuters, tourists, and ferry staff. However, the proof is in the pleasant pitter patter of paws across the ferry floor. Our furry friends, the dogs, ride with us across the waters. Some leisurely dogs accompany their human friends for adventure, while service dogs are hard at work caring for their human clients. Frank, the seagull, relaxes on the ferry on his way home after work. The two seagulls flying nearby playfully draft behind and around the ferry on the voyage across the waters, possibly also sighting a fish bothered by the wake of this steel giant. Quietly latched onto the keel of the ferry are the barnacles, hard at work using the movement of the ferry to cross the Sound to eat and cleanse the waters, sailing to and from the different barnacle breeding grounds of intertidal zones. Algae, the quiet introverts of the community, grow their families aboard the keel alongside the barnacles, using the ferry to spread across the sound.

The communication within this group manifests differently between each species pair. Human members communicate and interact with each other through spoken, body, and written language. Through conversing, monetary transactions, and postings the human members can effectively provide information and feedback to each other.

Communication between humans and non-humans is also accomplished through spoken and body language, be it English, Chinese, Barks, Squawks, or gestures. Humans can also subconsciously converse with dogs as we release pheromones, such as in the event of a human suffering from epileptic seizures. In this case seizure or service dogs are even better equipped to give feedback to us than our human counterparts, providing much needed support and medical attention. Our more stoic passengers, barnacles and algae, prefer to communicate through peaceful cohabitation — and that should be respected!

Interconnectivity in this community has evolved where language itself is nuanced and specific within itself. Sailing jargon such as port, starboard, topside, or galley, is tossed around by ferry employees performing their work. Human speech in different languages can be heard echoing through the ship, and specific phrases or commands can be heard between humans and dogs. Different dialects of dog Bark permeate in the halls as different species of seagull squawk resound outside, both languages a variety of nuanced volume and pitch with meanings only known to them.

Day-to-day operations in this community operate almost robotically on a set schedule of repeated procedures, with each species responding in their own way. Ship departure is marked by human passengers settling down for the voyage, seagulls setting off from their stoops, or barnacles sensing movement. Arrival is marked by passengers of all kinds disembarking, and whether barnacles or algae decide to leave at this time around is up to them. When an announcement is made, passengers hear and respond. Humans follow directions, and dogs in turn follow their human friends, seagulls look around questioningly, alert to possible changes.

Multiple age groups and levels of experience reside in each species group. For the ferry to cross, it requires a Captain with experience to sail, as well as employees with enough knowledge to assist in passage. For it to stay in operation, passengers (at least the majority!) must pay a fare, as well as have the desire the cross. Animals must be well behaved, and not all animals are allowed aboard the vessel. Seagulls that wish to partake in this community must have the prerequisite knowledge of its embarking and disembarking locations, as well as how to draft properly. The keel of the ship only has a certain amount of real estate, and barnacles and algae only have so much room in which to ride!

In this community, we observe an existing community comprised of multiple species in pursuit of the same goal. However, if we look at a map of today in this area with regards to this community, we would only see landmarks and features pertaining to humans. What value do we place in multispecies existence if the representation of a multispecies community is only geared toward the human elements? This is where we take the first step in the science of continuing change. In order to push past the boundaries of human-centered sociology, let us show our multispecies partnership on this planet by showing the livelihoods of every member of this community, as well as all the multispecies communities around the world.

The map shown is an example of a map in which can begin to show our value in species equality and begin to eliminate species segregation. In the new theory of cartography, we do not look to change mapmaking altogether. Rather, we look to alter some steps during creation with purpose and scientific methodology to properly represent the collective lives on this planet.

Firstly, landmass will be depicted accurately. Subsequent steps, however, must be done with a mind geared toward fairness in species representation. Landmarks should be depicted without a human-centered focus. Proper residence should be depicted for all species. Human houses and neighborhoods shall be drawn with the importance and attention to detail as that of barnacle intertidal breeding zones. Seagull nesting regions, at sea and ashore, shall be marked with precision based on scientifically observed data. In this discourse community. crossings should show not only human passengers, but dog, barnacle, and avian passengers as well.

In post-processing, map keys shall be created with species equality in mind. Information must be apparent showing landmarks vital to each species in that region. In our discourse community example, nesting zones, commuter species, and natural landmarks vital to each species shall be annotated for information digestion. In this way we revolutionize, through the science of cartography, a world view which places species equality at the forefront of sociology.

In this map conceptualization, we touch upon the subject of worlds separate from our own. Our human perception world, or all objects in which we humans observe and perceive, pales in comparison to the full breadth of the world around us. Our anthropocentric lifestyles dictate our perception to include only things important to humans. We create environments of rock and steel, effectively blocking out the nature and life that was here before us. Even nature that we put in public spaces serve a selfish human purpose, visual pleasure for human existence.

How often do you imagine what is in the mind of the pigeon walking the same sidewalk as you, or the dog you got to keep your child company? The perception world of a pigeon is filled with areas alien to us: Potential roosts, zones of food, zones of danger, yet they live amongst us. The environment of a pet dog at home is the same as its owner. However, its effect world is vastly different from our own. When you sit on the couch and turn on the TV, you affect your world to put on a show to enjoy. A dog, seeing this, will forgo the amazing TV show and choose instead to snuggle alongside its owner. These things happen constantly, but outside our active minds. A multispecies map silently coerces against this. It lulls us into considering not only what lies between point A and B that is of importance to humans, but other species as well.

As we approach the end of the second decade in the 21st century, we approach the start of a new era. The current era is dominated by technology and the rapid spread of information. Our ability to receive and dispense information is faster than ever, leading to an unprecedented capability to connect with different peoples and cultures around the world at breakneck pace. However, in our human struggle at perfecting and shaping our human society, we leave behind the ones here before us and start down a path which may doom the ones that will be here after us.

In this design of a multispecies map, we can slowly change and influence the human narrative surrounding our multispecies partnerships on this planet. As the amazon burns through human hands, the great barrier reef disintegrates through coral bleaching and climate change, and more and more species are becoming extinct at the fastest known rate in history, we must revolutionize our way of viewing the world. It is imperative that the science of the changing world includes a parallel change in our perspective of our neighbors.

Our interpretation of the world through geography should not focus on human existence, but equality in multispecies existence. Small discourse communities, such as the discourse community of ferry commuters, show the planet is more than one culture, race, or species. It is comprised of different organisms, from the smallest group of algae huddled together on a ferry’s keel to the free flying birds soaring alongside our human made giant metal contraptions. In this design of a multispecies map, we tell ourselves that while we as a species push forward to better our human lives, we choose to never forget and disregard the lives of those around us.

Works Cited

WSF Traffic Statistics,

243 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page