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June 28, 2002
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I can almost hear a Darth Vader-type character breathing heavily behind me. A sinister voice beckons me to give myself over to the dark side of my beloved profession. Could there be such a negative side to professional surveying? Yes, there is. And many of us don’t anticipate its power to lure us in; perhaps we never even recognize it.

One of the reasons many of us love this profession is because of the incredible variety of knowledge, experience and skill required to do it well. It is a line of work guaranteed to humble you on a regular basis—if you pay attention. Measurements, law, science, research, evidence interpretation—even common sense is required of the good practitioner. It seems there are never two surveys exactly the same, which adds to the challenge.

But…the dark side. When I finally realized there was a dark side to surveying a few years ago, I was already swept away. It had ensnared me nearly 30 years ago. And it is very difficult to return to the good (lighter) side.

The entire soul of this profession is at stake as we continue down the pathway of time. Our technological gadgets expand in their capabilities, get lighter and provide ways to more easily obtain measurements. The “old guard” of the profession prepares to exit gracefully into retirement, leaving behind a sincere but lost group of individuals who have never known anything but the dark side. Could it be that we have set ourselves up for failure?

Electronic devices, which make things faster, easier and more precise, have replaced many tasks within many professions. While there is a benefit to this, there is an extreme danger as well. An increasing number of our sort have sold their professional souls to the measurement devices. They have sacrificed the other skills, training and knowledge in favor of this slick and exciting breed of gadgets. Deed research simply cannot rate as highly on the scale of “cool things” we do.

There are some signs we should watch for in our profession, signs that indicate whether we are giving in to the dark side. One of these is the constant desire to attain boundary work with low bids. If ever there was something that requires a qualification-based award, it is boundary work. Yet many see surveying as an assembly line production. A few well-choreographed moves with our devices and…ZAP! We have a very precise boundary survey, which has no relationship to the record, the evidence or the law.

A second telltale sign of the dark side is the inability of some surveyors to accept anyone else’s work unless it matches theirs exactly for measurement. Truly, the law of boundaries has never been tied to precision—and never will be! But the dark side clouds our vision; it prevents us from seeing clearly that we have left much of our legacy behind. The “intent of the parties” was never supposed to be a measurement ego contest.

A final sign of this dangerous slide is when we see our academic institutions focusing on the measurements, math and gadgets, and forsaking other skills and knowledge required to be a good surveyor. Precious time in a four-year program is often spent on advanced iterations of seldom-used mathematical principles, sacrificing advanced (and sometimes basic) presentations on some of the other areas of expertise. The dark side has begun to win the next generation.

The dark side of surveying is the belief that surveying is about measurements, precisions and adjustments. It is not and never will be. And if any of us are so fascinated by the flashy cool gadgets we use that we begin to think those devices and the science behind them are what surveying is all about, then the dark side has already won.

Don’t give in to the dark side. The GPS satellites are not your father.

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