GEOG 597i
Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

The First Law of Geography


Waldo Tobler's First Law of Geography (as found in: Sallie Marston and Paul Knox (2009 Places and Regions in Global Context: Human Geography, 4th ed, Prentice Hall), the First Law of Geography) is that all things on the face of the earth are related to all other things, but the closer things are to one another, the more they are related.

Obviously, when studying the spatial realities of the earth, distance is important. For example, places will be less impacted by a given phenomenon (an earthquake, a flood, a revolution, a center of terrorist activity, etc.) if they are farther away than if they are nearby. This is a product of the friction of distance and distance decay. In other words, ideas, technologies, political and religious movements, and even violence, have tended to fade in significance and impact with distance. Nevertheless, modern technologies have been, and are increasingly, ameliorating the friction of distance. Sixty years ago, it would not have been possible for terrorist groups from the other side of the world to launch an attack on the United States by simply placing a person on a jet liner with explosives in his shoes, or in a more recent and innovative approach, his underwear. Such an attack would have, not long ago, required far more effort and many more people. Now, a dedicated terrorist or two can create chaos and great loss by boarding an airliner and causing it to crash into a crowded facility. Additionally, modern electronic systems of banking, communications, and information storage are also at risk because individuals located thousands miles away from their targets have the potential to seriously undermine the security of entire sectors of modern societies. Modern time and space adjusting technologies have greatly reduced the friction of distance and even the decay of distance associated with the spread of ideas, political/religious philosophies, and threats to national security.

Check Your Understanding

Multiple Choice

The first law of geography states that:

A. where you go, there you are
B. all things are related; closer things are more related than things that are far apart
C. geography is the study of space and place
D. geography is the study of earth as the home of human beings

Click for answer.

ANSWER: B. The first law of geography states that closer things are more related than things that are far apart.