If Santa Claus is global, the image of Santa living in the North Pole outside of sovereign divides has been elevated to a new horizon of expectations in the age of real-time maps. The question of “Where is Santa?” now can be responded to on a real-time viewer, prepared each and every Christmas Eve for over fifty-fie years, the North American Aerospace Command. For since the Cold War, and through the present age of smart phones and real-time tracking, NORADh as invited viewers all over the world the chance to track the gift-laden sleigh of Santa crossing the night-time sky at the speed of starlight. Never mind the different hours and expectations of Santa Claus in different nations or countries. For NORAD allows the world to track the flight of Claus cum reindeers on NORAD’s Santa Tracker, an annual collective exercise in mapping of increasing popularity, moving the image of bearing gifts into the globalized world.
Indeed, the mind-boggling proportions of its popularity, attracting upwards of 20 million individual users in 2011 alone, is a statement not only to its improved UX, but to the versatility of its incorporation of mapping servers better to imagine the itinerary of Santa’s airborne sleigh. For while we once envisioned the night-time flight of Santa Claus far-off and against a starlit sky and full moon, to accentuate the surprise of a magical sled-borne itinerary–
–the Santa Map brings that journey up-close for everyone before a computer monitor, following a sort of sleigh space that is the surrogate for airspace. The remapping of Santa’s itinerary has been done in a way that tracked, as the sleigh’s global progress is intercepted and relayed online in real time from posts of remote observation to viewers around the world. And in an age of global surveillance, there seems to be no reason why Santa’s sleigh cannot as well be surveilled for the interests of children everywhere.
There’s a huge appeal in the ways that the Santa Map creates and imagined community, as much as it embodies an annual itinerary. The interest in tracking Santa’s sleigh has grown considerably in recent Christmas Eves. The huge interest in tracking Santa’s sleigh–and effectively mapping the visits of the airborne sleigh into our hearth–is a way of bringing maps in line with pleasure at a time when we need to look for solace where we can find it, and where we can find a comfort that the onslaught of most maps of contemporary events in fact rarely provide.
Christmas has been a communal but solitary experience–located in the hearth and around the tree, and gift-opening a ritual of individual families–but somewhat serendipitously, the collective witnessing of the Santa Map offers a vicariously removed experience for crowds of viewers, removed from one another but creating the illusion of comprehensively witnessing the arrival of a fictional character to homes everywhere, as if to knit us together in holiday wonder, suspended for the evening in an imaginary international airspace of momentary world peace. In recent years, but perhaps since the Cold War, this particular image of good cheer provides the odd inversion of the danger of the military missile strikes, if not offering the miracle of suspending fears of missile strikes, or the contradictions implicit in imagining peace in a world that lies on the brink of global war by using the very tools to chart missile defense systems as instruments of good cheer. Santa may face a different workweek in the malls where he can now be met in many different nations–as he traverses national borders with different work weeks!–
–but the folks in the U.S. government and NORAD it completely reasonable to have the right to track the geospatial complexity of Santa’s sleigh ride, without removing any mystery out of Christmas holidays. It may be even reassuring that if Christmas Eve is Santa’s busiest hour of flight, the arcs of where reindeers guide his flightpath can be illuminated on our devices, in vivid geospatial specificity and even local detail.
The tortured narrative of the recent American election ended with something of a surprise. As we struggle to map their results, it is impossible to deny that they may mark entrance into a new world which may antiquate earlier forms and points of geopolitical reference, as global politics seem to be about to be destabilized in ways we have never seen. For in ways that reconfigure geopolitics which transcend national bounds, the extent of destabilization seems to abandon the very criteria by which we have been most familiar to map national borders, and indeed international relationships, as we enter into a new era of resistance, suspicion, and fear that dispense with international conventions that seemed established in the recent past–and internationalism rebuffed and international obligations and accords dissolved. Or at least, this was one of the few promises made by Donald Trump that appealed to voters that seems as if it will be acted upon.
The very America First doctrine that catapulted Trump to the White House stands, for all its championing of national self-interest, to be best embodied by the removal of the United States from its role on the global geopolitical map. And the removal of the United States and England–achieved through the striking success of go-it-alone political parties in both nations–seems to show just how outdated a five-color map is to describe the world.
The vintage Rand McNally map that claims to provide a world picture assigns prominence to the United States–and Great Britain–becomes the perfect foil and field to illustrate the impending uncertainty of a move against globalization across the western world.
For the prestige of the globe as an image for the dynamics of global politics was long familiar as a part of the furniture of the Oval Office, as the stunning fifty inch diameter mounted globe that OSS director William J. Donovan had specially constructed for President Roosevelt, at the suggestion of General George C. Marshall. A stunning pair of monumental mounted globes were presented President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill by the U.S. Army as Christmas Gifts in December, 1941, which set on large bases on which they rotated for easy consultation. The globe embodied the newly emergent geopolitical order that folks as Donovan created and served, and which the OSS Map Division protected. Could we imagine Donald Trump gazing with as much interest or cool at a revolving globe? While Roosevelt stares with remove but interest at the globe, apparently focussing his eyes near the Straits of Gibraltar, this formerly classified Central Intelligence Agency photography was meant to celebrate his growing mastery over a theater of global war.
The monumental “President’s” globes Donovan presented on Christmas 1942 to both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill placed monumental revolving globes–each weighing an unprecedented 740 pounds–occurred at the suggestion of Dwight Eisenhower, with the confidence of “that they foreshadow great victories,” in the words of George C. Marshall, and Roosevelt proudly told the General that he treasured the gift enough to place it directly behind his chair in the Oval Office and to marvel at the ease with which “I can swing around and measure distances to my great satisfaction;” Churchill’s was sent by airplane directly to 10 Downing Street.
The symbolic role of these large and weighty globes cannot be overstated: the large globes symbolize the complete mastery of geopolitical knowledge by both commander in chiefs in the midst of World War II; they show the investment of military forces in maps. The world map served in the post-war to embody the new global order already emerging during that war on which both understood a benevolent geopolitics destined to define American hegemony in the post-war; the Weber Costello globe company of Chicago, Illinois would construct some fifteen copies before going out of business in 1955. With sixty years of hindsight after the globe-making company shuttered its production line of deluxe maps, it seems the new United States President has opted to withdraw attention from maps.
The notion of the “offshore” suggests a realm out of reach of the law of the land, existing just off the coast of the regions supervised by regulators and taxmen, but has wildly expanded with the perpetuation of the legal fictions of the offshore as a place that offers an escape from national programs of taxation. Rather than exist only as a region beyond the shoreline or coast, and lie of the known map, the “offshore” is what escapes legal overview–and lies outside of national legal bounds. Arising as a convention to designate “offshore spaces” that lay outside of the recognized sovereign tax codes. But “offshore” regions need not properly be removed far from the mainland, or even from it at all–and are found on most any region or continent, save Antarctica. They are places where money of the superwealthy is invisibly routed, out of sight, not to remain, but to escape regulators’ oversight or the payment of a national tax or subject to national sovereign claims. The map of the offshore is increasingly a map of the unseen paths of where the superwealthy’s funds go.
The growth of the offshore is not a place to locate money, indeed, but through which circuits of international capital travel in a globalized world. For the expansion of the offshore is a not so odd consequence of globalism, and the increasing fluidity of finance to travel smoothly across territorial bounds–an ability to sequester funds just out of site, nestled in offshore accounts that are not subject to state scrutiny or traceable by paper trails. We have recuperate the notion of islands, removed from the shore, as a new way to symbolize and achieve the escape from regulation: the offshore as an entity emerged with the ability to dislocate and remove global capital from any place, and all oversight, as the circulation of global capital among the superwealthy resists being parked or located in a national framework or onshore spaces, but can be invested in sites of excessive demand and overvalued property.
The “offshore” is the ultimate example of the uneven nature of the valuation of space in an age of income disparities, and a fiction to allow these income disparities to be preserved. It is the geographic manifestation of a logic of tax avoidance that has become the exclusive privileged operation of the superwealthy, who feel entitled to subtract their wealth from the community they live, escaping the demands of living in any nation by shifting their wealth–“parking” their luxury cars to secure parking places or garages–that guarantee tax-avoidance, and indeed sanction a geography of tax-avoidance that is the privileged exemption of the superwealthy, those of a guaranteed worth of $30 million for the next twenty years, a coterie of increasingly large size as a bracket, that in 2010 included 62,960 ultra-high-net-worth folks in North America; 54,325 in Europe; and 42,525 in the Asia-Pacific, per Wealth-X, with the latter predicted to leapfrog both by the 2030’s. havens located offshore currently enable the super-wealthy–the richest 0.01%–to evade 25% of owed income taxes, in a global scam that, per Gabriel Zucman and colleagues, effectively conceals over 40% of their personal fortunes, rendering them opaque to any national government, and as a consequence erodes claims to national sovereignty, and indeed the authority of the post-Westphalian state that was defined by its borders. If the map of territorial waters loosened national authority from borders to accommodate a global economic playing field allowing actual offshore mineral extraction–in what were felicitously termed “international waters, free from taxation, and outside the nation-state.
The rise of the “offshore” as an geoepistemic category, or “geoepistemology,” in Bill Rankin’s terms, effectively legitimized by the broad “tax amnesties” granted by multiple governments extended to tax cheats after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The amnesties from sovereign taxes many–even before the release of the Panama papers–to for the first time try to “to map out the frequency of tax avoidance, by income level” that was long unmapped, first among Scandinavian countries, to start to plot the range of financial subterfuges and conceits that removed the wealth of the super-rich from any actual tax franchise, affirming the existence of a perilously increasing wealth inequality: in America alone, the disappearance of a “tax gap” that only between 2008-10 amounted to a massive $406-billion between what taxpayers owed Uncle Sam and what they actually paid. This removed their wealth from the territory, and indeed from the sovereignty, that create a deep crisis in the form of a time bomb for the sovereign state, making conceits of “tarriffs” and “imports” almost pale as a lower level of financial transactions occuring in real time, or on the books, rather than offshore.
Is there any surprise that no moral authority existed able to compel Donald Trump to reveal his actual tax returns as U.S. President, when a gap of such proportions was the norm in the Obama era? The decreased in likelihood that America’s millionaires would ever find their returns audited have dropped up 80 percentthan in 2011, suggesting a tacit acceptance of a gap in wealth that the geography of the offshore perpetuates and enables. Even after the stock market’s boom and bust cycles, returns of the upper 1% jumped in capital gains for mutual funds and financial accounts–measured in trillions of dollars in the last decade–that only solidified wealth inequality as a reality.
New stratospheric wealth levels pushed the collective net worths of the 1% considerably north of a hundred trillion; these rates of return were both not shared by other income groups, and not able to be comprehended by them. And such wealth generation granted rights to park wealth in an exclusively available geography of tax evasion of an expanded offshore constellation of money managers, outside sovereign reach; they would be no longer beholden to sovereign taxation agencies and were without obligation to states. The concentration of a hundred and twenty trillion in the wealth of the upper 1% created new spaces for wealth, apart from sovereign surveillance, where they might accumulate and grow, unable to be tracked in the global projections by which we are used to monitor other global events.
If the notion of the offshore is a relic of the post-colonial era–and began as a legal clarification of the category of offshore jurisdictions or overseas dependencies, removed from the European colonial powers as they enjoyed a liminal connection to formerly colonizing states–but it is perhaps better understood as the hegemony of a new notion of financial empire and wealth inequality. Today’s offshore are an exclusive insider knowledge, not open to many, but accessible to all initiated in schemes of tax avoidance, brokered in a bespoke maner by agencies–as Mossack Fonseca–who exploit loopholes of international law and the financial fictions of the ius mari to enable clients to sequester vast sums from national oversight–lest financial transactions be mapped. The offshore ensures opacity ing financial mapping, or the ability to place vast sums of money off the table, that sanction frictionless cash flows off the map.
In a global economy whose cash flows are more difficult to detect or embody–based less on the face-to-face, and rooted in the borderless fiction of the friction-free, increased integration of markets open multiple loophole for syphoning off national tax franchises, facilitating the sequestering corporate money–as the wealth of super-rich long tolerated to hold accounts described euphoniously as offshore, or, even more opaquely, as overseas, opening up fantastic speculation as to what that might really mean.
At the same time as Pope Francis elegantly entreats all to view the world less through the distortions of economic markets–and without forgetting those who are all too often overlooked–we rightly grapple with ways of imagining global inequalities, working to view the world less in terms of economic markets of commercial exchange or banking centers. For Francis asks us to find a way to map the debt the producers of greenhouse gases owe to developing countries, lest their weight fall on poorer countries, rather than industrialized countries bearing their cost, and as well as a way of correcting the usurious rates of lending money, by guarding against those “oppressive lending systems . . . which generate further poverty.” The United Nations served as the setting to stage a dramatically and radically revised ” Urbi et orbi” address by the first transatlantic pontiff, and one deeply conscious of that status. Francis enjoined us to imagine a common good–chastened by the harms of seeing social needs only in terms of economics. The moral injunction to consider the deepening economic imbalances of national debt recalls the difficulties of picturing a more equal and more ethical distribution of space, taking stock of the globalized world outside dominant patterns of economic exchange.
If oppressive systems of lending create states mired in relatively equally distributed poverty, and others increasingly less egalitarian–as Japan, South Africa and the United States–poorer individuals or countries all too easily fall through the cracks and off the mental map that privileges dominant economies. Indeed, so obsessed have we become with noting, accepting, and internalizing property lines that we seem trapped into forgotting the actual distribution of inequalities in our country. The warping of economic conditions in the United States alone–a warping toxic for local politics, and compassion–are nicely illustrated in microcosm in a glorious if grotesque GIF Max Galko offered, via Metrocosm. In its warping of a planimetric image of national space, it seeks to track the terribly troubling distortion of civic space by wickedly substituting residential values on land to reveal hypertrophied concentrations of capital in a few regions—mapping value onto land in ways that display the drastic diminution of housing stock in far more regions of the lower forty-eight that contract out of sight.
The bloated property values of urban and exurban areas are hardly signs of a healthily beating heart, but a Rabelasian image–if it weren’t also such a very accurate illustration of our current national political quagmire of using a map to create consensus when concentrations of wealth looks so different than the one which determines our representational government, and a clear social commentary and scathing socioeconomic critique. For how can we create a clearer map of priorities, when the very levelness of a playing field is so distorted beyond recognition? The cartographical contraction of so many areas that seem overlooked seems also a metaphor, as tNew York City, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Orange County and Chicago acquire hideously gargantuan proportions to seem countries of their own, as they assume their relative values of residential properties, leaving the majority of the country to disappear within the folds of their overvaluation and market-driven expansion, as if to show the difficulty with which market valuation maps onto our own space. All this to raise questions of how a map of global economic relations might best begun to be traced, or how we might imagine the disruptive inequality on our perceptions of space–and, indeed, the inequalities that spatial orders increasingly come to reflect and perpetuate?
Does this image of a “beating” heart only map the absence of empathy in a map?
1. For economic exchanges seem strikingly complicit in perpetuating inequalities, if only by diminishing those very inequities of economic productivity perpetuated in most maps fail to adequately attend or obscure. One might hope, with geographer Andrew Linford, and Martin Lewis, the benefits of a map illuminating the inequities of global disparities in economic productivity–and try to use such a map to address how both regional and national disparities, often oddly dividing coastal areas from poorer interiors, might be overcome, and the ways that what pass as concerted attempts to do so often only shore them up. But such a map only confirms the sorts of distortions that most are only too aware already exist.
The illusion of equality is more often maintained by the belief that by mapping all aspects of the earth we are ensuring a sense of equality for all, or allowing no inequities to be hidden from view–as if the projects of world-mapping, and exposing to the public eye, is a means of responding to global needs–rather than obscuring these inequalities.
2. Or can this even be captured in a map? It bears noting that even if we have a totalistic map of global coverage, we tend to not come to terms with the depth of inequities and wealth, so obsessed we’ve become with what we can record as if it was a picture of the status quo. In an age where outfits like Planet Labs or their friendly competitors at DigitalGlobe readily provide satellite-generated images that map the surface of the earth from space for their client base at an astounding resolution of two to three meters, what’s being mapped omits the truly important transactions, exchanges, money-laundering, and other financial transactions that underlie the ever more globalized economy. Even as the platforms of Geo Big Data may appear comprehensive in detail, the undercurrents of these claims provokes questions about what they fail to communicate. Perhaps the very promise of totality for such claims of whole-Earth imagery–to be sure, at lower resolution for the state of Israel, by a ‘flock’ of “Dove” Satellites–only confirms that the real action lies elsewhere: maybe in those shifting currents less readily subject to be seen, tracked or so readily surveyed, as much as on the edges of urban and rural life. After all, if one accepts a uniform mathematical grid as a way of mapping, one omits any local knowledge of place, andy any notion of representation.
There must be more that resists such ready capture–from the rampant inequalities of wealth that organize our cities to the disparities of wealth around the world. What other underground streams of electronic or financial transfers can we trace? These streams constitute the new mare nostrum, the non-territorial terrain on which both worldly power and economic activities are waged, and run across the boundaries of either a settled or defined geopolitical space. But the space of climate change is one that is best rendered as transcending a map of territorial bounds or geopolitical space that is rooted in the antiquated notion of “countries,” which not only seem increasingly removed from our planet’s fate–
–but from it’s actual experience.
3. The map “Money Trails” traces the actual paths of the disbursement of funds by the UN, World Bank, and 11 industrialized nations to reveal the distortion of global ties transcending geopolitical space. So much seems revealed in the major unmapped pathways that structure our increasingly disturbingly decentered globe–which infographic artist Haisam Hussein used to map the distribution “foreign aid” in the pastel hues and curving bars reminiscent of the London Tube Map that the engineer Harry Beck so cleverly devised on the model of a simple circuit board–but which suggest a decentered lack of familiarity, and raise the stakes on processing how foreign aid is allocated, as much as to explain the circulation of funds with an air of transparency.
Hussein’s uncanny infographic tacitly calls attention to the status of Aid as an artifact of the Western World (to which Beck so clearly belonged), even if the destinations of most of the billions tend to arrive at destinations whose open circles peripheral to or far outside the west, from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Brazil, Kenya or the West Bank–as well as India and Ethiopia. Beck’s design had once simplified the confusion that Londoners faced in confronting underground routes by simplifying the Tub to a circuit’s dense pathways in ways riders quickly came to disentangle:
What does it mean for huge sums of foreign aid to travel as they do, through such sanctioned if somehow secret hidden pathways of economic exchange? Can one begin to disentangle their distribution by different agencies and governments, and the parallels sources of foreign aid dispatched to those needy, or to enter into a logic of their distribution? Can one ever expect the distribution of Foreign Aid to run along such clearly defined pathways?
4. In an age where the vast majority of financial transactions occur online and data centers channel chains of information with increasing speed, the paths of financial transactions are rarely transparently mapped. Although we accept multiple ways of mapping and surveilling the world, but mapping the global exchange of money and financial assistance are less clearly established–if only because the mobility of money presents far less easy or a static image and is less about clear relations between place than often undisclosed channels of exchange. If we know the GDP of different countries, national debt, global debt, or even map government debt as a percentage of GDP–we can rank countries’ relative consciousness of balance of payments, or the ability with which debt is able to be sustained, while those deepest crimson threaten to drop from view or implode:
Such a static distribution of debt offers a basis not to consider the distribution of productivity; it describes the ability of countries to carry debt even if carrying this load provides the basis to perpetuate their global roles.
The basis for understanding the circulation of money around the globe raise questions of the continued relevance of connectivity, distribution, and indeed the privileged point of orientation to the circulation of power. For a map that privileges clear boundary lines of jurisdiction serves to regard each nation as an autonomous economic actor, but in an era of the paperless transaction of funds, the map that continues to privilege territoriality seems not only out of date, but increasingly irrelevant to describing the process of globalization.
One might also see the development of aid as a holding pattern or mode for tacitly creating consensus and uniting an increasingly uneven playing field of the economic state of play. If empires were once seen as controlling the sea and mapping control of navigational spaces, the notion of the “Freedom of Seas” or Mare Liberum that Grotius proposed as the basis for mercantilism in the early seventeenth century have long ceased to be the basis or the illustration of imperial mandates: whereas the concept of the Freedom of the Seas was in ways an extension of ancient Romans’ control over the Mediterranean, the ocean is no longer the screen to project projects of dominion than are the pathways of aid whose currents more aptly flow from centers of geopolitical power–and can only be mapped in far more fractured, and indeed postmodern, globalist terms, where economic aid is tied to the opening of markets as well as political ties–and might be far more challenging to map. The sea is no longer the primary surface of economic exchange, and the relatively recent migration of monetary exchanges onto virtual space poses unique challenges to trace.
The less visible pathways and more visible tentacles by which foreign aid is dispensed may not only lend coherence to our national markets, despite the dramatic inequalities that continue to exist across the inhabited world–the expansion of aid may indeed make it ethically and conscionably possible to live in its huge differences of well-being and lifestyles that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise ignore. An astounding $530 billion was informally sent, through unofficial channels, by immigrants, in 2012, according to the World Bank, in ways that might represent the economy of a sizable nation–and a huge uptick over the $132 billion sent in 2011. The pathways of finance suggest a new model of global circulation of giving and receiving that offers something like an underlayer of the global economy.
As of 2006, the money sent home from industrialized countries in the form of individual remittances was for the most part (outside of Africa) significantly larger than the official development assistance and foreign aid worldwide, according to the World Bank, whose donor countries commit to sustainable development or poverty reduction in ways that provide a plan for dealing with economic disparities.
But the dramatic expansion of foreign aid far more often travels along official currents, supported by a logic that demands some excavation of internationalist motivations that transcend mere economic need.
5. While the notion of Christian charity was long linked to the local public use of personal wealth, as upper-class Roman elites gave money as they wanted to civic causes in much of Europe and North Africa, the flows of philanthropy that have been increasingly institutionalized have become ever more difficult to trace and complex to map as foreign aid has tried to reduce growing income disparities worldwide. Giving is institutionalized by governments–and by United Nations organizations with the World Bank and their non-profit NGO allies, but mapping flows of philanthropy are far from the sorts of local giving of the past. Increasingly mediated by non-national entities, the flow of funds in an era of global cash flows and transfers is increasingly dematerialized or immaterial, even when growing to the inconceivable amount of $160 Billion.
Perhaps rendering them concretely provokes more surprise than recognition as the courses of capital are remapped on a geographical projection. And when Haisam Hussein chose to map trails of foreign aid against the famous transit map of a city once the financial center of world markets, as if to map the spatial contraction of the global economy to several principal routes of financial disbursement, the map suggests not only the mobility of money, but the degree to which the major economies like the United states and Japan, as well as Norway, Sweden, England, Germany, France, Australia and Canada pump money into a global system of credit that sustain global markets, helped primarily by the World Bank, and basically bankrolled by eleven nations, including Japan, Canada, the US, Britain, Sweden, Australia, Russia and South Korea–who exclude the “other area,” left grey on the map, of the People’s Republic of China.
The money flows are modernistically represented as if to show the progressive possibilities of aid in streamlined terms, the distribution is at the same time in no way equal and strikingly disproportionate and the larger flows of aid dissonantly disruptive of the modernistic design–the pathways of economic aid are clearly and lopsidedly dominated by the nations of the northern hemisphere. Despite the modernism of the routes, the disproportionate paths on which aid travels disrupts the symmetry of its so sleek tube lines, as distortedly large baby blue rivers dominate the map as they flow from Japan beside yellow-gold currents from the United States, reminding one of the deeply engrained national inequalities that underpin much “giving” today–and dazzling us with an array of colors and flows that leads us almost to forget the global presence of the PRC, or the grey persistence of global poverty.
But the selective nature of support seems particularly striking–with, as of 2013, the UK tied to Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh, the US to Kenya, Gaza and the West Bank, and Afghanistan, Australia to its neighbors Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, Norway to Brazil, and France to Myanmar and Morocco. The routes for disbursing foreign aid are hardly a process of global circulation, but provide something like a strategy for promoting the possible circulation of global funds.
The circulation of “aid” is in part a sort of shadow-map that helps shore up and support the US military’s presence. The spread of what seems an extended carte blanche to settle the US military in bases abroad has grown steadily since World War II, and has currently grown to spread to over 800 foreign bases in160 other countries and territories outside the United States–excluding Afghanistan and Iraq, sustained at a cost of over $156 Billion annually. The current constellation of what Chalmers Johnson called “base world”–a parallel imaging of military extraterritoriality–of which the Pentagon lists not only 174 US “base sites” in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea, but hundreds more in around 80 countries, including Bahrain, Bulgaria, Colombia, Kenya, and Qatar: if those countries colored bright red are hosting actual basis, those in purple are hosting US troops, and those in dark blue are countries where the US government is currently negotiating the presence of troops, and the rare spots of a lighter shade of blue mark those with “no evident” US military presence–limited to Mongolia, Tibet, Burma, North Korea and Iran, and the northern and central Africa nations of Libya, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. (But one never knows.)
While one might rightly wonder why the army, navy, and marines are based so widely over an “empire of bases,” the cost to the government is no doubt not only expressed in the cost of running the bases that are outposts of Americana where one would think oneself to be geographically removed.
A closer look at those sites of centers of active duty of US soldiers–not including the recent theaters of war of Afghanistan and Iraq–shows a diaspora of bases across the globe that the Department of Defense sustains, allowing the US to have a greater presence worldwide than any actual nation, empire, or people, in seems the underside of globalization, as well as the fantasy of a paranoid extra-national archipelago of active duty that may respond to a vision of global danger:
Is foreign economic “aid” somehow a tacitly understood bribe to continue to tolerate such an expansive military presence, or to negotiate with nations for the possibility of securing a future base, or some other sort of economic open-ness? Is it an excuse to overcome resistance to perpetuating ongoing military presences, or a new way of strategically and cynically waging a global war of chess?
The image of active duty soldiers settled in bases across what might be called Eurasia reveals an often unmapped constellation of sites of settlement, far different from the cities that usually appear on a political atlas or any map.
6. The World Bank does not primarily speak, despite what its name might assure us, for the world, and may charge usurious fees, but a counter-geography suggest the limits of the pathways Hussein so cleverly mapped from a first-world perspective.
For an unspoken and often ignored “other map” of economic aid, as well as, perhaps, of the “soft money” that allows military and economic expansion, flows not from the World Bank or United States, of course, but from China–all too absent from our own eyes, much as the very same region of the world is so conspicuously absent from maps of Facebook “friending” and “likes” in ways that makes one smirk with superiority at the eerily blacked-out region of a world otherwise illuminated by “friendships” and photo exchange. The same area not so oddly omitted from the map of global foreign aid, since it is not our aid or the sort of aid sought to be mapped, is actually of course not nearly so passive, or lacking networks of giving. Although Facebook’s ““Friendship Map” tracks networking, as much as it registers an increasingly vibrant emotional pulse of the digital culture of linking that grips much the globe, leaves a blank space of seep blue or empty lacuna in tracing over 1.5 billion friendships–half of its users have successfully “friended” over 200 other users. The largest hole of social network gapes over China–though one still can’t really expunge its territory from a map–although the map only reflects individual and collective investment in social media.
Perhaps the map is far more distorting than admit it to be.
In the more real world of global finances, funding provides an image of governmentally that reigns in the massive economic disequilibria around the world at at time of dramatically curtailed prosperity. China’s foreign aid reveals distinctly different paths of money to North Korea, Srl Lanka, Sub-Saharan Africa–including Ethiopia and Sierra Leone–and Ecuador; aid is proffered with quite different degrees of riskiness, in ways that suggest the large number of risky bets that China seems to be making in “foreign investment”–described here as something unlike and distinct from “aid” or charitable giving, but as something of a gambit of clearly strategic scope of investing in future markets or potential future sources of food:
New York Times
Yet the degree of cumulative investment deserves attention as an alternate visualization of globalization that is not scary, but nonetheless can’t help but be salutary at least in illustrating global imbalances as a counterpoint:
One can further profitably compare this to the aggregate numbers of Chinese exports and imports go, to see its economy’s global reach, and ask why the range of its “giving” or aid is ommited from the above map–in ways that suggests the degrees of strings attached to it. The size of exports suggests a complementary set of ties to areas in Europe, the United States, Japan, and South Korea, as well as Australia and South Africa, where a smaller degree of aid arrives–no doubt with invisible strings of its own implicitly attached.
New York Times
These somewhat silent and far less evident paths of “giving” and GDP, as well as export values, seek to map a more dynamic image of the current state-of-play of globalization as a sort of state of flux, even if its economic ecosystem is all too often obscured, but also a screen for introspection of the proportions of globalization and its sins. After all, whoever gives themselves the mantle of global authority most convincingly seems to get to draw the map. Or to decide that it might be time to reconsider the current map of giving, and foreign aid.
As we attempt to navigate the ever-expanding seas of data in the information economy, we can overlook the extent to which data streams run underneath the world’s seas to create a quite concrete sense of the interlinked. For such cables underlie the increasing notion of geographical proximity we experience daily, from the world of big finance to mundane online transactions. Ocean floor mapping had barely begun when the first cable was laid underneath the Atlantic, connecting England to the United States by being painstakingly laid by throwing thousands of kilometers of telegraph cable overboard ships from wooden beams loaded with cable, moving from the middle of the Atlantic in two opposite directions, to create a subaquatic bridge of metal wire, by 1858. “At last the great problem is solved,” Walt Whitman wrote in celebration of the achievement of the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph enterprise as a precedent that “set all doubts are forever at rest as to the practicability of spanning the world with telegraph wire–of joining Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia toegether by electric current.”
The globalization avant la letter that Whitman celebrated the “grandeur of this creates achievement of the Nineteenth Century” for confirming the “practicality of communicating across the Atlantic,” on the eve of America’s Civil War, was a triumphant enterprise whose “immensity” threw cold water on doublers was cast in disturbingly radicalized terms, to be sure, as a bond that liberalized a bond by which “Saxon extends the hand of amity to Saxon,” of an “all-conquering race that is always progressing and extending its power and influence, whether in the icy Arctic and Antarctic or in the tropical heats of India” by “lighting flashes from shore to shore: Whitman sung the “chord of communication” that would “vibrate forever with the peaceful messages of commernse, the lightning-winged words of the press, and the thousand anxious queries of individual affection to the health and happiness of the absent and the loved” in the Brooklyn Daily Times, as an ethnic triumphalism that “conquered time and space . . by man’s inventive power” as a sublime achievement. And the raptures into which the transatlantic cable set the poet who so desired worldly unity in 1858 saw the miracle of allowing the world to “reason together” “without the aid of palpable agencies” suggests a fascinating promotion of a discourse network uniting Old and New Worlds whose map was aptly chosen by Telegeography as a harbinger of a new horizon of information exchange in the twenty-first century.
The spans of privately funded fiber optic undersea cables that have been lain across oceans floors, some stretching over 28,000 kilometers, are a literalization of global circumnavigation. They provide an image of global networking as well as offering the most massive engineering feat on earth that is hidden to human sight–and are more an emblem of globlization, in many ways, than the contraction of global space. And the rapidity with which further cable is being lain to link the world’s data flows along faster and more secure lines of communication mirrors global interconnectedness–senses of connectivity and warping past concepts of proximity, unifying the differently owned cables.
Conjuring of a surprising antiquated format of charting coyly suggests the increasing interconnectivity of the Information Age, and it also channels the extreme novelty of being interlinked. The retro iconography of a chat channels the very claims of modernity that TeleGeography, a global telecom, pioneered to channel information–and done so by familiarizing viewers with a distinctly concept of space by how we are increasingly interlinked on information highways often concealed far beneath the sea. Rather than naturalize an image of high-speed connections, the clever choice to rehabilitate a slightly romanticized earlier mapping of oceanic expanse suggests the new space of online data. And it takes the notion of the electronic frontier seriously, by seeking to orient viewers to the new mental space that such sunken data lines create. If the map of the bridging of oceanic by sunken internet cables domesticizes the transcendence of distance through the increasing interconnectedness of information flows.
There is clear pleasure in the retrograde mode of mapping also reveals the actual distances that the physical substrate of the World Wide Web inhabits in so doing, and suggests that we would do well to remember the physical substrate by which the global financial economy is interlinked. To be sure, the format of the map echoes laying the first undersea cables across the Pacific, in the mid-nineteenth century in 1850, when the thrill of mapping the expanse of undersea cable was mapped for the first time enabled possibilities of direct communication networks in the Anglophone world that the poet Walt Whitman himself–he who asked readers ponder the image of a thousand acres, and the linkages among all Americans, and in older age would celebrate the inauguration of the first transcontinental railroad.
Whitman provided a vertiginous reaction that registered the excitement that the cable trigged in the United States in a rather short newspaper article of 1858 focussed on the “moral effect of the Atlantic cable” on the nation, which barely touched on its technological triumph: it is striking that Whitman, long practice in the material practices of setting type to mediate the human voice, celebrated the technology of the cables laid under the ocean by wooden boats as linking communication between England and the United States, as Anglophone nation, by a cutting edge technology of deeply spiritual significance by which he was fascinated. The piece is a sort of meditation on human geography, or the aesthetics of space that the cable changed in a profoundly deep historical–as well as submarine–manner, bridging distances of communication in new ways.
Whitman was long fascinated by the compilation of voices in type, and networks of communication that spanned nations as the railroad. In 1858, already an established poet, he celebrated the cable as as a material network for transporting semaphore, if not human voice, transcending space and binding England and America in truly inseparable ways as a sign of the fostering of global peace–attracting much popular celebration, even if he judged it would not “bring one iota of personal benefit” to the majority of American inhabitants, the electrification of “unbounded excitement” makes it seem as if the internet was introduced to all, in democratic fashion, generating a level of excitement, evoked in the map below of the Submarine Telegraph, worthy of “glorifying a grand scientific achievement” that outstripped any “merely material considerations” by its ability to “thrill every breast with admiration and triumph” in ecstatic terms: Whitman waxed poetic as he praised how “the sentiment of union that makes the popular heart beat and quiver,” more than its technological advantage, imagining that the network set a deep tie spanning the Anglophone world betwden two countries “no longer [able] to keep each other at arms-length.”
The role of technology in furthering the natural relations within or coherence of a nation–a point of fascination common to the institutional infrastructure of America Whitman also celebrated of his own poems–was almost cartographically conceived as a way of unveiling unities within the world able to bridge space, and even, at times, time, able to transport and convey messages that depended on oceanic travel.
Was the technology of the Submarine Cable an extension of the national unity Whitman already celebrated of the United States? The bond that the cable created was cast as a profound historical event, leading England and the United States to set aside any rivalries, having forged this deeper bond of both “heart and feeling”–the network was a deep-lying embodiment of shared purpose, even if it was not seen! Perhaps its very invisibility added to its power. Whitman had celebrated in the 1855 Leaves of Grass the very conceit of achieving such a “merge” through his poetic voice, a merge between peoples, races, and classes; he was open to the idea that the Cable achieved a merge between nations, allowing voices or at least semaphore to span space. Accordingly, he invested the transatlantic coupling of two nations with almost spiritual dimensions. The cable’s laying open new chapter of global history opened by triumphs of ingenuity, skill and technology was less of interest than the “exultation with which it has been greeted and the unbounded enthusiasm with which it has everywhere been received” to foster a sentiment “that makes the States throb with tumultuous emotions and thrills every breast with admiration and triumph.” The cable indeed became a form of sexual congress and intimacy between continents, for Whitman, as much as a communications network, the cable from Newfoundland a fundamentally triumph over international dissensus.
Can one imagine a better promoter of the sort of information highway that realizing poetic goals “material bond for the transmission of news of the rise and fall of stocks,” as Whitman seems to merge his role as newspaperman and poet to celebrate the mystical resonance of cable that would make the designers of the internet applaud. Whitman was amazed that the “mighty outburst of enthusiasm all over the land” that the laying of the cable provoked in the United States, greater than any in his recollection, beyond other celebrations of the nation: the apparent contradiction that “Probably to an immense majority, the Telegraph Cable will not bring one iota of personal benefit” would be outweighed by the “union of the Anglo-Saxon race, henceforth forever to be a unit.”
Whitman was almost anticipating how TeleGeography didn’t only borrow the antiquated iconography of marine charts to celebrate globalization, but found a precedent to celebrate relying high fiber optic cable across the ocean floor: a communications network has perhaps rarely been cast so openly in spiritually elevating terms by someone not its promoter. There was of course considerable physical effort, and much planning, now unseen, as well as the loss of thousands of cable underwater for several years, until warships, loaded with cable, divided the oceanic span by setting off from a point in the midst of the Atlantic in opposite directions, to create a subaquatic bridge, after having lost kilometers of metal wire, by 1858.
The first message took over sixteen hours to arrive in full from England’s Queen Victoria to U.S. President Buchanan, by undersea cable–
The shrinking of distances was a powerful breakthrough of the ability to map space in different metrics, however, than every seemed possible for transatlantic travel. And it’s hence quite apt that the antiquated techniques of mapping global relations were reprised by the folks at TeleGeography to remap the current global growth of internet cables by the syntax and aesthetics from an Age of Discovery.
The appealing charting of the hidden network of submarine cables designed by TeleGeography didn’t only borrow the antiquated iconography of marine charts from an Age of Discovery in order to promote the expanding spread of submarine fiber-optic cables in amusing ways. For the image served to suggest the shifts in spatial connectedness that such increasingly rapid data flows have allowed, and to suggest a map that, in focussing on the seas–and the overlooked areas of marine space–returned to an interesting if somewhat overlooked spatial metaphor to consider and visualize the extent to which global financial networks and information systems move in particularly flexible ways across the permeable boundaries of nations, if not the degree to which national units have ceased to be the confines that matter, as cross-border flows are increasingly the primary sorts of traffic that matter to be mapped.
A more familiar global remapping of phone calls,constructed on a study by students of business, Pankaj Ghemawat and Steven A. Altman, partly funded by the logistics firm DHL, an approximate quantification of globalization was made by the metrics of cross-border telephone calls in 2012 worldwide, in which the thickness corresponds to the minutes spent on the phone–and presumably the closeness of connections, if filtered through the relative costs of calls and the ability to pay them.
In a sense, the chart featured by TeleGeography openly incorporates less data, while noting the varied speeds of connections, in an image of interconnectedness, and positions itself less as a cutting edge snapshot of globalization or globalized than at the dawn of the possibilities of future interconnectedness that the laying of fiber-optic cables of greater speed can promote. If the map of telephone calls raises questions of information flows, some 41 percent originating in what the authors identified as “advanced economies” to “emerging economies,” and only a small fraction (9%) originating in an “emerging economy,” the technology may also illustrate the precise demographic that continue to adopt telephony: the authors observe that the dominant “calling patterns” reflect “interactions due to immigrants,” with most international calls being placed from the United States to Mexico and India, countries of first-generation immigrants–rather than reflecting actual information flows.
TeleGeography seems decidedly optimistic about the possibilities for global circumnavigation fibre-optic cables can promote. In place of offering a map of actual flows of data, or a revealing look at where cables lie, the adoption of an aestheticized image and iconography of the nautical chart to map the ever-expanding web of cables that connect the world advances an argument about the sorts of ties cables facilitate, in order to illustrate and promote the ever-increasing multiplicity of ways information can travel across the globe without regard for the bounds of the nation-state. Even as we bemoan NAFTA, or raise concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the networks of cables that currently span the terrestrial sphere divide into 285 separate privately owned segments show a coherent network has rapidly grown–its extent more than doubling in length over the past three years–and seems poised to only grow in coming years, to render national protectionism a thing of the past: the map leaves viewers only to imagine its benefits. While not seeking to quantify actual data flows, the scope of the map seems to be to naturalize the broad range of traffic lying such cables allows, if it is also jumps backwards over the many traditions of oceanogapahical mapping to show a seafloor that is not marked by drifting continental plates and scars of underwater earthquake activity–
–but a smooth surface of cables that seem to be lain without ever encountering natural obstructions or topographical variations in the ocean floor.
The expansion of transcontinental submarine travel was on the cutting edge of the 1850s, and the laying of miles of lost submarine cables the Atlantic floor may have led Thome de Gamonde to realize hopes for a tunnel between England and France that parallel the previous laying of cable–
–and project the first underwater tunnel linking England and France in 1855 for rail, a project stopped for “strategic reasons” though the idea of such a chunnel–imagined by Napoleon’s mining engineer of mines as conveying horse-drawn carriages–
–was only completed until Francois Mitterand was driven by Rolls Royce (a concession?) to board the inaugural train.
The linkage between the nations was a feet of boring a hole, but bridged the very question of territoriality that the first plans of the 1855 version, presented to both Napoleon III and Queen Victoria to be forged through undersea rock, as if piercing the earth’s mantle–
–posed to territorial bounds, and the definition of sovereignty.
The submarine network of cable now totals upwards of 550,000 miles. Although it is never seen above ground, and lies concealed beneath the seas, it now seems to animate most international commerce. There is a pleasant irony in adopting the decorative aspects of marine charts to map a contemporary image of global circumnavigation, since they gesture to deep shifts in the seas of information, but also evoke the marvel of rendering visible what is all but unseen. The exact locations of such cables are not displayed, of course, but the stylized presence suggests a decidedly early modern form of boastfulness–“according to the best Authorities [and] with all the latest Discoveries to the PRESENT PERIOD,” the extent to which the infrastructure of the Information Age spans the seas. What once was a site of marvels revealed by the officer turned conservationist Jacques Cousteau is a field for information carriers, even if monsters inhabit its depths.
The “New Map” updates the recent rapid exponential expansion of the network fiber optic cables in recent years as a sort of corporate promotion, rehabilitating the marine chart to naturalize the submarine network that now carries a large share of global financial and administrative information worldwide. Retrospectively mapping the expansion of this exoskeleton of the anthropocene ignores the technologies on which such mapping suggest, recalling the abilities to technologically harness steam, wind, and power to recreate the romance and adventure of global circumnavigation in an updating of the 1873 romance and fast-paced adventure Jules Verne told of a race against the mechanized clock by a constellation of transit networks.
For much as Verne offered a quickly paced adventure mildly disguised celebration of technological unification of the globe, the retrograde if glorious map masking as an engraved superimposing high-fibre cables on image of the ocean as understood in days gone conceals the clear corporate interests or material technology that underpin the Information Age. And the recent expansion of a trans-continental high-tension submarine fiber network able to carry 26.2 terrabits/second of data across the undersea floor–which once took seventeen hours and forty minutes–is an awesome acceleration of time that unbinds us from all accustomed temporal constraints in a dizzying fashion. Even as Russian and other spy ships are operating in dangerously close proximity to the cables that carry an infrastructure of global communications that maintain the illusion of the open exchange of information across territorial bounds. (The safety of the antiqued map dispels any such fears of disruption of information exchange in its friendly presentation of a mysterious unknown underwater world.). And now that 99% of global internet traffic occurs thousands of feet undersea–from Netflix to now literally offshore financial transactions to email, the more black-boxing a map can perform, the better!
The appeal of the map not only is of an oceanic unknown–but an act of traversing the very national boundaries that seemed so solidly perpetuated in paper maps. The map of the oceanic unknown celebrates the laying of a material web of the world wide web as if it were another oceanographical detail, but masks the unseen nature of the cables that were lain in hidden fashion underneath the seas: indeed, rather than the slightly earlier Verne-ian classic of 1870 with which it is often paired, the map doesn’t heaven to futuristic science, but sublimated a similar story of submarine itineraries. Indeed, the map offers a picturesque recuperation of an aesthetics of global unity that serves to reframe the newly prominent submarine network that ships recently strung across the ocean floor. It conceals the labor and mechanical drudgery of doing so–both the engineering or the fragility of the fibre-optic network, and the material basis of an electromagnetic carrier lurking deep under the seas. In the Cable MapGreg Mahlknecht coded, the spans of current cables already connect hubs of communication across oceans at varied but increasing speeds, now approaching 26.2 terabits/sec across an astounding 6,6000 km from Virginia Beach to Bilbao, Spain. And while the depths of such cables is not apparent in most maps, the lodging of the cables on the ocean bedrock, 8,000 meters beneath sea-level, is argued to promise the “stability” of such an infrastructure that seem removed from the effects of human interventions from such old-fashioned addons to the seafloor as anchors or submarines.
And the planned additions to the network, in part enabled by warming waters, are poised to greatly expand:
The work that the map modeled after an engraving of global seas does is serious, for it integrates the growing network of fiber-optic cable at the ocean’s floor into the seascape that nautical charts showed as a light blue watery expanse. For as the price for fiber-optic cables precipitously dropped since 2000, this material infrastructure of global financial markets has not only grown, but kept up with the rapid improvement in network communication along a growing network of 250,000 km of submarine cable most folks have limited knowledge, and whose public image is in need of better PR, the more eye candy the better. The complex web of what Russ Fordyhce of Infinera has slyly called “the workhorse of the Internet” using fiber optic–a seemingly antiquated technology in an age of streaming and cellular towers, in a high-speed fiber network able to carry internet traffic that roots a virtual world. Such high-pressure sub-sea links expanded subsea capacity by an Intelligent Transport Network, expanding the network of undersea cables to meet broadband needs across the word by 100G flows.
The speed of such expanded capacity for submarine transport as a network of “intelligence transport” suggests a massive updating of our notions of transportation, by a restricted number of undersea fiber cables that seem staged to supersede cable networks in providing bandwidth. The pictorial addition of such fairly florid decorative detail from nautical charts to invest the routes of hidden submarine cables’ with an aesthetic that both caused it to be named one of the best maps of 2015 and exemplifies how to lie with maps, if the current expansion of fiber network capacities suggest that the network of just four years ago are indeed antiquated by the Infinera and other organizations promising to transport data at significantly greater and greater speeds.
The 2015 map, published online, but emulating the paper map, seems to conceal the extent of work that went into not only laying the cable, but ensuring that it was not disrupted, but blended seamlessly into the surrounding submarine landscape. FLAG–the Fiberoptic Link Around the Globe–after all offered a sort of modern updating of the boast of Jules Verne’s Phineas Fogg. For Fogg wagered £20,000 that the speed of the combination of trains and steamboats would allow him to travel around the globe so that he could return to the very same seat he occupied in the Reform Club in London in only eighty days–a boast based on his trust in the speed of modern conveyances of steam travel. For Fogg’s image of interconnectedness was realized in the copper cables that conducted telegraphy traffic.
These telegraphy cables lain under the Atlantic by the 1880s by the Eastern Telegraph Company across the Atlantic and Pacific, which by 1901 linked England to North America, India and Malay in a network of communications that offers a vision of corporate interconnection spanning the expanse of the British Empire and providing it with an efficient communications system that was its administrative and commercial underpinning.
Eastern Telegraph Company (1901), planned cables shown by dotted lines–Wikimedia
But rather than perform the feat of circumnavigation, the matrix of underwater internet cables is based on the creation of a submarine matrix to carry any message anywhere all the time–when it can be linked to an on-land cable–save, that is, in Antarctica, where the frigid waters, for now, would freeze the cable and disable it. Fogg staked his wager after noticing a map showing the construction of British rail exchanges that allowed long-distance transit across India, believing in his ability to achieve global circumnavigation on a network of carriers, based on his trust as a passenger and subject of the British Empire–and the infrastructure the enabled news, commerce, and administrative connections to travel with velocity, leading twenty-four of the thirty ships capable of laying cable-laying to be owned by British firms by 1896. The framed cartouche in the upper right of the 2015 Submarine Cable Map echoes the triumphalism of the “present day” in boasting of the achievements by which, since “the first intercontinental telephony submarine cable system TAT-1 connected North America to Europe in 1958 with an initial capacity of 640 Kbps, . . . . transatlantic cable capacity has compounded 38% per year to 27 Tbps in 2013,” as US-Latin American capacity has nearly quadrupled.
The map, revealing the material network to what most of us perceive as coursing through the air, less effectively places the course of cables in evidence than depicts their now naturalized course. The seascape of the Information Age seems, indeed, to demand the naturalizing of the courses of submarine cables, shown as so many shipping lines, running across the Atlantic and to the Caribbean, around the coast of Africa, from India to Singapore and to Hong Kong and Japan, before coursing across the Pacific. Is its quaint cartographical pastoralization of the courses of communication under the oceans, we see a reverse rendering of a materialized image of globalization, disguised by a faux nostalgia for the mapping of the as yet unknown world that will be revealed by the impending nature of an even greater increase of data flows. Indeed, the breakneck speeds of data transport are noted prominently in some of the cartouches framed at the base of the map, which suggest the two-fold subject of the map itself: both the routes of cables that were laid on the ocean floor, and the speed of data transport their different latency allowed. The cartouche is a nice rendering of the corporate promise of delivering data that TeleGeography presumably makes to its customers, despite the different ownership of many of the stretches of cable that exist, and the lack of harmony, proportionality or geometric design in how the cables are in fact lain.
That the network of submarine cable retains a curious focus on relays in England that is a telling relic of the nineteenth century.
The internet’s network still seems to start in England in Porthcurno, moving to Spain and through the Strait of Gibraltar, across the Mediterranean to Alexandria and then turn down the Gulf of Suez through the Red Sea, and around the Arabian Peninsula to Dubai, before moving across the Indian Ocean to Bombay and on to Malaysia and through the South China Sea to Hong Kong and up the coast of China, it creates an even more expansive set of exchanges and relays than Fogg faced. For while Fogg was dependent on rail to traverse the United States as well as much of Europe, where he could pass through the Suez Canal to reach a steamer engine, and then cross India by train, before getting a ship at Calcutta to Hong Kong and Yokohama, the multiplicity of connections and switches that the submarine cables create disrupt any sense of linearity and carry information at unheard of speed–fiber-optic cables carry information at a velocity that satellite transmission cannot approach or rival.
Voyage of Phineas Fogg by rail, steamship, and boat–Wikimedia
The relays of paired cables now enable the instantaneous transmission of information between continents realize a nineteenth century fantasy of an interlinked world in ways that expanded beyond contemplation, the possibility of visiting the countries that FLAG traces are actually verges on impossibility–if only since the network offers multiple pathways of simultaneous transit.
The ambitions of those earlier Telegraph cables in connecting the world far transcends Fogg’s plan to create a path by which he could move between transit hubs. His plans are dwarfed by the ambitions of modernity of the range of active and future underwater cable revealed in Greg’s Cable Map in ways that suggest the ambitions of creating an ever-more intensely interlinked world, where increasing number cables have been laid to fashion the actual physical infrastructure of the internet.
We often render the “hidden world” of privately owned transatlantic and other cables as a separate underseas world of cables lying on the seabed, able to be disrupted at its nodes, but removed from alike the shoreline and terrestrial world.
In strong distinction from such an image, the recuperation of something like nautical engraving by TeleGeography makes the clever point of naturalizing the greatest infrastructure of the Information Age–one that sometimes seems to have outweighed investment in the visible infrastructures of our cities and roads–within the currents of our seas, and as colored by the very hues by which the land is mapped as if to show the seamlessness of the communicative bridges that they create.
Given the extreme overload of data that these maps reveal–and the eeriness of a world created by the extent of cable laid–It’s in fact quite apt that the telecom firm TeleGeography showcased the interconnected nature of global communications this year by adopting the style of nineteenth-century cartographical tools. It’s probably not at all a coincidence that in this age of big data, there’s a deep romance in the symbolic reclaiming of the crisply engraved lines of nineteenth-century cartography that folks like Nathan C. Yau of FlowingData pioneered in the online publication of a Statistical Atlas of the United Sates with New Data, refiguring information of the 2010 Census and 2013 American Community Survey. Although designed in bits, the maps emulate the engraved delineations created for Francis Amasa Walker’s first Atlas: Yau announced he had done out of some disgust that budget cuts prevented the Bureau of the Census from creating the atlas displaying its data in a Census Atlas–despite its success in accumulating so much data.
A quite clever graphic designer, Yau has posted sequences of detailed non-dynamic maps that evoke the lithographic detail and crisp objectivity with which Walker created multiple legible embodiments as the Director of the US Census from 1870, when his interest in data processing led a set of new maps of the nation to be printed in Harpers Magazine, and the Census to grow to 22 volumes. So well are we trained in grasping information via elegant visual forms that Yau bemoaned the absence of a similarly set of stately maps by evoking the project Walker envisioned as a form of mapping serving the public good: and his online images embody data lying in the repository of Census data, from geological records to the distribution of human populations–and digest data to recognizable form, whose individual snapshots seem a nostalgic embodiment of data available from the American Community Survey.
FlowingData, “Map Showing the Area of Land Cover for Forests within the Territory of the Coterminous United States” (2015) from data compiled by American Community Survey (2013)
Flowing Data, “Map Showing Five Degrees of Density, the Distribution of Population” (2015) from American Community Survey (2013)
It is somewhat less expected that the format of an engraved or traditional map be showcased to reveal the system of submarine cables lying on the ocean’s floor: few would consider the invisible network with nostalgia for the medium of the paper map.
To be sure, the very subject of internet cables are more appropriately rendered in an appropriately futuristic mode that habituates us to its ambitions by expanding the colors of a public transit map to reveal an image of an interlinked world–
The decision to “go retro” breaks conspicuously with such a choice for the futuristic design, and accommodates the multiplying extent of fiber optic cables that have been laid across the world’s waters so as to network the globe. Only in 2014, TeleGeography issued a staggering map of the improvements in linkages of relays in submarine cable systems, suggesting the extent of the interlinked world to which we have become familiar not only thanks to Edward Snowden, but to our reliance on global data flows that increasingly enable financial markets worldwide, surpassing material constraints.
Such a map is overly schematic, indeed, since many of the cables’ paths are not openly disclosed. From the land, we cannot see the landing sites where such fiber-optic cables go underwater, as Trevor Paglen has recently reminded us, in a series of diptychs that contrast the cables barely concealed in NOAA maps and the otherwise placid landscapes of the beaches beneath which they run; few realize the extent to which the information that travels on them is likely to be monitored as a form of mass surveillance, which we are far more likely to associate with satellites or surveillance.
But the complexity of the how information is carried along such cables is as boggling to the mind as the awesomeness of its ambitions. Perhaps recognizing the sense of overwhelming its readers with data overloads in its maps, the 2015 map of submarine cables from Telegeography updated the format of an engraved map, and put in online in a fully zoomable form, to allow one to examine its lovingly rendered detail in a map that harkens back to charts of nautical discoveries but celebrates the rapidity of delivering information in an updated version of the corporate triumphalism of the Eastern Telegraph Company. That map, which boasts in evocative language to be revised “according to the best Authorities with all the latest Discoveries,” foregrounds the multiple linkages of fiber optic cables that carry the vast majority of communications–of which “oversea” satellites link but a fraction–so efficiently they at first carried upwards of a thousandfold as much data compared to the older copper cables that lay below the sea recently–280 Mbps of data per pair–and moved 100 Gbps across the Atlantic by 2012–and the prediction 39 Tbsp is even feared to barely satisfy demand. For transatlantic cable have come to carry some 95% of international voice and data traffic, and are viewed as a fundamental–if unseen–part of our global infrastructure, potentially vulnerable to disastrous interruption or disruption.
The familiarity of the “New Map of the Submarine Cables connecting the World” is not only charming; it is a somewhat subtle naturalization of the new materiality of information flows so that they are regarded as a part of our new lived environment. To be sure, the paths of cables are highly stylized, as if they fit within the oceans’ currents, although they sacrifice accuracy even though they suggest their private ownership and considerable density.
The open-ness of this mapping of submarine cables has been rare until recently–as recently as 2009, the location of the cable that arrives in the UK at Cornwall Beach was kept secret even on military maps, although commercial fishing trawlers and other boats are provided with access to them, somewhat paradoxically but unsurprisingly, lest they run across and damage the undersea cables that relay so many vital data flows across the globe under the seas, and whose severing could potentially come at a cost of as much as $1.5 million per hour.
The actual density of such cables laid at the bottom of the sea is not displayed on the above map, of course, which conceals their precise locations or the complexity of their routes, which are tantamount to secrets of state and off most maps.
The map designed by TeleGeography is indeed a romanticized vision of the pathways that information courses around the world, undersea, in an information age; the recuperation of the iconography more familiar from a printed map of the seas than the layers of a web map or data visualization naturalize the presence of such submarine cables in an odd exercise of familiarization. We might be more suspect of the cartographical tricks of rendering, naturalizing the courses that submarine cables take when we examine the definitive maps of actual submarine cables or study the extent of such offshore cables in an interactive map and more carefully scrutinize their actual expanse. (Such maps are not actual renderings of their situation on the seabed, if the stark layers that chart these cables are decidedly less harmoniously balanced with the light shades of the mock-engraving, Submarine Cables Connecting the World.)
Decidedly fanciful if naturalistic sea monsters could denote the limits of the known world or the boundaries of secure navigation in many early modern charts, the inclusion of this most pictorial of cartographical iconographies familiar from early engraved maps are aptly appropriated to suggest the absence or gaps in the interlinked nature of space and of what passes as our sense of continuity in 2015–as well, on a not so subliminal level, to evoke the dangers of their disruption.
So naturalized is its cartographical iconography that the map suggests the new environment of internet cables in which we live. This naturalization might be nowhere more evident than in the exotic appearances of marine creatures included in its seas. A longstanding historical association exists between sea monsters with the North Sea, after monsters were first rendered as crowding its overflowing oceans in glorious detail by the bishop-geographer Olaus Magnus in his 1539 map of the land and waters around Scandinavia, who seems to have borrowed from bestiaries to illustrate the dangers that sailors would face in its waters, and to delight his readers and attest to the variety of the created world.
James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota
A strikingly similar sort of horned seal and spouting fish quite appropriately make an appearance in the 2015 Submarine Cable Map of TeleGeography within the North Sea and Arctic Ocean, as if to suggest the frigid waters that restrict the services such cables deliver–the spouting animals and seal lifted from Olaus Magnus’ Marine Chart frolic just beyond the regions that are currently covered by the cables’ crowded course.
Is this a hidden representation of what actual spatial limits constrain where countries are able to lie further submarine cable?
The iconography by which maps address their viewers might be framed in productive ways within historically situated economies of visual attention with interesting results. For as much as they reflect practices of production, the ways that maps have engaged viewers who struggled with new ways to grasp expanse reveal a dialectic between graphic invention and a larger marketplace images, despite the tendency of those who style themselves historians of cartography to focus on their formal qualities or the mathematics of geographic production. From their insertion at conspicuous places within some of the earliest printed world histories, mapmakers actively courted readers’ attention by crafting increasingly persuasive claims in aesthetically challenging ways, and by raising the stakes of their abilities to process expanse. The promise to crafting a satisfying harmony of comprehensive global coverage has long existed in uneasy balance with their narratives.
The success by which cartography and art communicate globalism might benefit from tracing the ways in which globes have long tried to engage their viewers’ attention. The woodcut of a world map below, designed circa 1490, defined a global purview for readers in ways intended to be cognitively satisfying, promising to orient them to unseen regions by scattered rivers and landmarks, even if they did so by using means that seem antiquated, being both of restricted scope and mediated by inherited ideologies of empire, Christocentric beliefs, and specifically Eurocentric models. But the promise of expanding horizons led this bold two-page map to be prominently placed in a universal history to mark the recession of waters in a post-diluvian world, suspended in the hands of Noah’s three sons–Shem, Japheth, and Ham–serves as a blank slate to inscribe a global history that proceeds to span across generations to the Resurrection of Christ.
If the map of the world is crude by what we think of as modern standards, and possesses no clear spatial indices, the symbolic power of a planisphere of clearly Ptolemaic origins was modern: the engraved schema provides ways of orienting viewers to the lavishly illustrated book’s s expansive content as a comprehensive condensation of collective histories about the world’s regions–making good on the recent authority of such projections along latitude and longitude to reveal an aggregate history charging the growth of worldly and ecclesiastical power over the emergent consciousness of a global expanse, centered roughly on Jerusalem, inscribing a succession of empires over terrestrial space. Indeed, the discoveries of the New Worlds that were mentioned in the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle (a compilation of universal history of somewhat scholastic origins known as the Liber chronicarum or “Book of Chronicles”) occupy small place in the service of describing the chronology of a succession of imperial ages that culminated in the ascension of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. The early world map that seems to have derived from a Florentine archetype was used to describe the recession of waters after the Noahic flood in ways whose power existed to set the stage for the rise of Greek and European empires, rather than the discoveries.
If maps no longer convey such a stable sense of narrative progress, and such an engraving would no longer seem a marvel, most maps do considerable work in engaging an economy of visual attention. The world is with fewer open spaces than it was for Noah’s three sons, and global history resists linear narratives, despite the resilience of similarly terrifying apocalyptic notes, at times fed by a rage for biblical prophecy that generated sufficient demand for tracking daily fluctuations of a Rapture Index available for online consultation.
Globalization demands adequate expression by a visual image that can engage its viewers, hopefully by more than the material underside of the interlinked–perhaps a map more fully revealing of the shifting nature of individuals’ relation to the inhabited world. At a time when the earth is crisscrossed with media systems whose signals are relayed along 6,300 tonnes of satellites–and over 8,000 physical objects that orbit its surface and will outlast its inhabitants as a necklace of debris–we lack maps of how we inhabit the world or have remade our relation to it.
Such computer-generated visualizations offer the chance to visualize the satellites that track our changing global positions and information flows, relaying media world-wide over a multiplicity of interconnections: the image reveals what lies outside our visual abilities or comprehension–and which we would be otherwise all too apt to forget otherwise– by using government data to allow us to visualize the multiple layers at which satellites orbit our planet, even if they make it hard to track the wide array of signals that they transmit, intercept or surveil. But they were absent from the multiple covers that served to catch readers’ attention in the global-themed relaunch issue of the New York Times Magazine, a striking photograph of a suspended glowing globe, shot in a studio setting with an exposure that disorientingly overlaps the toponyms of Africa and South America, whose equatorial line seems to cut the globe in an unfamiliar place.
The maps offer an angle to contemplate the stunning long-exposure image of a rotating globe editors of the Magazine recently commissioned from photographer Matthew Pillsbury as a cover illustrating the rapidly changing world for a relaunch issue. The lit globe seeks to communicate both “the idea of chaos in the world, and how this is something we have all learned to deal with,” the design director observed. But the cover of the New York TimesMagazine designed by Pillsbury demands attention both for how it holds the viewer’s interest and renders the globe as its ostensible subject. The photograph is an artistic interpretation, and compelling illustration that reveals multiple relations between art and cartography, as much as it describes the relations between nature and culture or between news media and globalization. But if the image was intended to convey the “speed at which our world is changing” to readers, and presumably represent the news covered in its pages, it gives pause–even as an image that reflects on current quandaries of abilities to sustain the successful illusion of a promise of comprehensive news coverage in an ever-changing world.
1. The almost transient shadow toponymy in the globe as Pillsbury managed to photograph so that the names of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil congregate in a ghostly region off the shore of Africa, and Europe is suitably displaced to its upper regions, suggests the shifting focus of the news, and even questions the familiarity of reading the globe though that most conventional didactic of mapping forms, a globe of the sort one might have encountered in a schoolroom when learning about world geography for the first time: the apparent overlapping of continents and blurring of the northern hemisphere destabilize our surety of global geography in an intriguing way, set, disembodied, above the words “HELLO, WORLD,” ask we re-examine the map we thought we knew.
The five-color globe that appears in the header to this post is, in fact, while a welcome departure from the templates of Google Maps, similarly opaque in the very inscrutability of the very glittering image of earlier attempts to map the earth that it offers. Pillsbury’s long-exposure photograph of a spinning lit globe deserves interest as an advertisement of how the newspaper of record mediates news from a perspective that narrates a version of world news increasingly interlinked and less stable through a strikingly retro medium of mapping as a glowing globe. The photograph addresses how the shifting of what once seemed immovable territorial boundaries circa 1989 have not only been redrawn but shift with an unforeseen fluidity challenging to comprehend. Yet more than inviting us to interrogate relations, or the mobility of global populations and goods, the image almost aesthetically distances the spinning globe from viewer as much as it reveals levels of entanglement of places to one another and intensified contesting of sovereignty. The blurred five-color surface of the spinning globe seems to abstract mapping from human geography. It not only suggests the opacity of its ostensible subject; indeed, it almost asks the observer to throw up their hands in something passing for marvel at the illegibility of a large area of familiar regions, and at the increasing entanglement of current events. It almost revels in being intentionally opaque, however, as if to say that the old indices of orientation just won’t work or clearly be commensurate to the take on current events that it will describe.
2. To be sure, in an age of the proliferation of maps on multiple platforms and hand-held devices, it’s refreshing to rehabilitate the schoolroom globe, and almost ask us about our current world’s distance from it. Oddly, however, Pillsbury’s cover employs an almost antiquated didactic object, a school map, relinquishing interactive mapping tools, to suggest the quick-changing world. By spinning a schoolroom globe at high velocity to craft a visual pun to illustrate global change, the cover raises as many questions as it answers. What seems a conservative cartographical format-if here used somewhat tongue in cheek–as an icon of cartographical authority is almost prosaic. The sheen of the surface takes advantage of the conventional five-color globe of the world to seem to suggest a surface whose very colors and hues are so blurred to render them and all surface toponymy illegible, as much as an image of totality of global relations. As may befit the newspaper of record, the globe is steadfastly traditional in its familiar five-color design: it suggests a space by no means fixed, where boundaries around countries are redrawn and surfaces blurred for all practical purposes, but only tweaks the most standard image of the global coverage to suggest a disorienting sense in which we might lose familiarity in its geographical contours, rather than promise truly comprehensive coverage.
For the globe’s illegibly blurred surface almost erases the considerable varieties of mapping by which we’ve come increasingly to understand and orient ourselves to the world, and almost relinquishes hopes for a new ethics of a world view, but just suggest the inadequacy of imagining the ideas of terrestrial location, proximity and geopolitics as received from earlier school globes.
Is it that the idea of boundaries of knowledge are just not so clearly fixed after all, or that the problem of providing a single authoritative viewpoint is being explicitly acknowledged? What does it seek to illuminate?
More troubling, Pillsbury’s photograph of a glowing globe offers us no place to decipher almost a single word: the effect is almost to see words swimming across its ghostly surface, unlike the transient figures that inhabit urban spaces in his stunning body of photographs of urban spaces. The notion of a commission from the photographer to create an image of global coverage might be misplaced. For Pillsbury has worked primarily in cities like New York, Paris, Venice, or London, using his knowledge of the local to much advantage, as well as Japan, more recently, where he’s taken advantage of a Guggenheim Fellowship to turn his lens toward explorations of Tokyo’s public spaces. His subjects have been less global than relentlessly cosmopolitan in scope. Pillsbury’s recognizable style is more than a sign that the Times seeks to cultivate readers as the hip newspaper of record by the image in this post’s header, as much as suggest an actual global purview of different spaces. The picture is almost a way of conveying just how difficult the job of the news is to convey all that’s fit to print, in a time when the world seems spinning faster than ever before.
3. As an artist who has investigated the relations of crowds to urban space the spaces in New York that he knows well, often working to illuminate the “performance” of identity in interior or cavernous public spaces where individuals and crowds congregate, Pillsbury has cleverly employed extended exposure to blur the boundaries among individuals in urban space and place. The result is to question the relation of the individual to settings that might be otherwise familiar. The extended exposure of the globe is less of a site for staging events or a setting, than a surface just out of contact with the viewer’s eye. Despite the suitability of Pillsbury’s medium to observations of the interaction between individuals and images, or crowds visiting museums, such images are effective as encouraging ongoing visual investigations by expanding time in exposures from a few minutes to an hour that is collapsed into a single image. They indicate the changing “geographic imagination” by which we all inhabit different spaces. The spinning globe is photographed less to offer a record of lived space than an almost fetishized surface as an object, more than inviting viewers to consider the spaces that they inhabit; if the urban spaces can never be stopped or reduced to a purely static form, the globe is always in motion and hard to perceive save by the brightly lit sheen it presents. It recalls a past legibility of space, rather than propose a prospect of continued legibility.
The photograph on the cover of the Times Magazine, despite its candy colors, contains a clear note of melancholy of the absence of hopes for adopting a clear relation to space, even as it radiates contentedness in that realization. The photograph is perhaps best taken as a meta-observation on the success with which maps can continue to command interest in a changing world. The candy-colored globe is an icon of cosmopolitanism, not primarily oriented toward coverage, blurring the notion of one-to-one signification, and almost attesting to its own inadequacy. That is not, however, the most confident self-image for journalism to project. And it hardly helps that we have to wade through about fifty pages of full-color advertisements for high-level commodities and financial services, speckled with small articles, until we find articles about the world in the Times‘ recent “Global Issue” that meet the promise its title posed, but raise some of the issues about which we might want to learn if we could better distinguish its spinning surface after all.
New York Times Magazine
4. The photograph interstingly contrasts to how Pillsbury regularly runs long exposures to pose topics of visual interest that invite us to look at how spaces are inhabited in new ways, raising compelling questions about the construction of space and how we live in it, the globe’s familiar surface offers more of an elusive object of desire and a commodity–and not provide a space that invites us into it, and whose business invites us to sort outs its contradictions. For if the issue doesn’t really invite us to look at the world, so much as the advertisements suggest the globalized economy it serves, the sort of select writing that we have to wade through glossy ads to find is a deserved reward, but hardly a point of entrance.
Another of Pillsbury’s images of a strikingly similar color palette suggests the pronounced permeability of place to humans, and explores a living geography defined by human interaction in ways static maps can rarely either work to successfully register.
But the ghostly presence of the illegible globe almost suggests a world that can’t be grasped, about which we are as mesmerized as challenged to process information. Rather than invite the reader to interpret global space, the image seems a farewell to geography as a matrix of information, rather than the promise of global coverage made by most earlier symbolic maps in newspaper mast-heads or the animated backdrops of nightly news television shows.
New York Times
One senses that there is less interest in the history of an icon of spatial inter-relations, and networks of relationships, than an insider knowledge of how far we have come from the sorts of globes we used to use in school. The photograph seems to gesture, however, to a long history in the twentieth century that takes the globe as a promise of the coverage that the news–or a news channel–could offer, if its iconic role seems to have considerably atrophied as it grew increasingly antiquated in current news graphics, which cultivate far more dynamic modes of visual engagement.
5. The iconic marquis of De Lauer’s News Stand in Oakland, CA, whose range of international papers made it a mecca of the hard-to-find remains a survivor of the on-line. The globe of its marquis dates from the Cuban Missile Crisis, as is perhaps evident in its charmingly corny magnification of the United States. The globe so prominent behind the name “De Lauer’s” in the marquis provides a notable predecessor of the symbolic promise of mediating global information, and the purchase of the authority of the globe as a promise of the delivery of objective information to a shifting readership of news; even if the prominence of the United States on the map belies the fact of the range of international news it continues to sell, the marquis illustrated the inter-connected nature of the world delivered in print daily to the door of an Oakland news stand.
The image of the newscaster reading the globe was easily transposed to early television news for some years as an authoritative setting of addressing a public audience of viewers, back when news was of a considerably more univocal enterprise. What now seems too a tired template for breaking news has retreated to a background of increasingly schematic form, no longer the authoritative site of enunciation from a position of expertise it was for Walter Cronkite’s newsroom, even as the studio backdrop map was recently reinstated for current newscasts. The map in front of which Cronkite spoke was something of the objective correlative of the reliability of the individual newscaster, or a sign promising continued confidence in his pronouncements, and was updated in the famous equal area Goode homolosine projection that was adopted for CBS Evening News.
Walter Cronkite (c. 1968)
It’s unclear if this is still the case, even if the network has recently resurrected the same backdrop, it seems to lack comparable authority.
The stability of the globe has atrophied in network news, receding to a backdrop with strikingly less signifying power. The globe has become a glyph of reduced prominence and authority–not only because of compelling graphics, but as its meaningfulness seems increasingly worn and holds less promise or stages a narrative of global coverage not clearly attached to a somewhat overly tired symbol. No longer corresponding to the omnipresence of proliferating online maps in our worlds and on our other screens, the world map seems a superadded surplus, almost an older piece of mental furniture pressed into new service.
The world map is often pressed into service as a supporting graphic rather than an authoritative point of reference:
It’s hard to say how much a static map can pose the pretense of authoritatively describing a terrain that seems so rapidly shifting and whose dynamics of power it could hardly capture. It is difficult to assert the globe’s a promise of comprehensive coverage, or successful a medium to hold the viewer’s attention.
6. To be sure, the continued promise that the globe makes is not truly able to be taken so seriously, as well, given the multiplicity of news sources that we tend to presume, and the difficulty of assuming that one source would credibly count as a fount for universal coverage. Although global coverage remains an icon of authority, the geographical distribution of news items printed in the Boston Globe, MIT’s Center for Civic Media‘s project “Mapping the Globe” demonstrates, by showing the return on the promise of global purview promised in the newspaper’s masthead against its stories–demonstrating a predictably skewed coverage in 2011-15. If reflective of recent global “hot-spots” in Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, and Iraq in that period, the skewed nature of their current coverage directs attention to and mediates a picture of global politics to its readers which one can easily re-imagine as distorting actual its proportions in response to proportions of the paper’s coverage:
While this partly depends on the paper’s distribution, and putting news on the table that will grab attention–and this interactive map will allow viewers to investigate the map at much further depth, below its surface, by hyperlinks to the exact stories about each region that they can scroll through, as if by a toponymical indexing of the newspaper’s coverage of recent events:
It raises questions of the picture of the world that we see refracted in the news stories that the Globe prints, and what it effectively filters out of the mix to provide its coverage of news.
The result, based on a morphing of the world map by data about stories related to countries in the Guardian newspaper, 2010-2012, was remapped accordingly by the energetic and enterprising cartographer Benjamin Hennig, in a cartogram that reveals the distortion of hemispheric privileging of space in the newspaper’s coverage, while maintaining the actual land/water ratio: the result instructively magnifies the mideast, US, and Europe, echoing of distortions of the Mercator globe, while magnifying the AfPak region and Iraq, much of the Middle East, and both Japan and the Koreas:
Even without actually drawing an proportional cartogram of global areas covered in stories that reach print, such as that created by developers of Worldmapper, from Hennig to Danny Dorling, which rescale the size of nations in proportion to how often it is mentioned in online news items, or to create metrics of places corresponding to the size of articles newspapers devote attention to them–and perhaps have retained active bureaus–newspapers hard-wire our brains to a global map or worldview we all too readily internalize. The worldview leads us to expect stories from regions of the world, and to suddenly make space for others–Ukraine; Liberia; Nigeria–aware that they may suddenly may disappear. This might be called the world we bring to the paper, as we first click on its homepage or physically open its pages, as much as the world that the paper covers. But the blurred world of shifting toponymy that Pillsbury preserves is more often one that lies just out of reach.
In terms of the acknowledgement of the blinders by which the world’s news is actually mediated, it’s nice to close with the combined tension of peace and violence created by the coexistence of obliteration of information and an ideal of harmony refigured by far more ironical image created by Maurizio Cattelan and Pier Paolo Ferrari for the same Magazine. Cattelan and Ferrari provocatively painted of a repainting of the globe’s surface that both conveys a suggestion of blissed-out harmony of the island of the lower forty-eight states, and a terror of obliterating all existing toponymy save that in the forty-eight states between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, save the partly obscured lettering noting both oceans. This masking of a map shows an optimistically if terrifyingly blinkered news, a sense that the world is best in our hands when we’ve obliterated most all that is outside our immediate purview, prepared by what seems a man in a dark blue serge suit, who is calmly and decisively moving a brush studiously to conceal most of the surface of the inhabited world with baby blue paint, in a sort of Brave New World image of preparing What We Want To See as much as ‘All the News that’s Fit to Print’–and wonder if its consequences are so pure–and who is the suitably anonymous man in the blue serge suit who is doing the overpainting, anyways. (It echoes the rendition of a perpetually sunny scenery in Google Maps, though even Google is more forthright in offering geographical coverage. But it would be hard to offer less than shown below.)
The multi-media image of a painted-over globe seems to record the censoring of what we need to know, and what is to be seen–and presents us with the manicured image of what we know best if not a view of the world where censorship is the new norm. In the post-Snowden world, we cannot help but think about NSA’s efforts to infiltrate internet carriers and compromise global telecommunications networks without concern for international law–or treatises with the sovereignty of neighboring countries in the Caribbean: in this globe there is “an equal measure of terror and peace,” although the peace lies in obscuring of the world outside of the United States by blanketing the entire world with coats of light turquoise latex paint.
Both images provoke us to consider the ways that the image provide commentaries on news as a space for learning around the world, or to orient ourselves to the dynamics by which we describe and are invited to investigate the world.
The mediated nature of news is, of course, not so tacitly commented on by the image of the editorial team that assembled the updated Magazine, young folks huddled around a large-screen Apple monitor of pretty similar ethnic identity and economic background, preparing the image of the world that will be soon ready to be consumed. Has the screen replaced the globe?
We read more maps than ever before, and rely on maps to process and embody information that seems increasingly intangible by nature. But we define coherence in maps all too readily, without the skepticism that might be offered by an ethics of reading maps that we all to readily consult and devour. Paradoxically, the map, which long established a centering means to understand geographical information, has become regarded uncritically. As we rely on maps to organize our changing relation to space, do we need to be more conscious of how they preset information? While it is meant to be entertaining, this blog examines the construction of map as an argument, and proposition, to explore what the ethics of mapping might be. It's a labor of love; any support readers can offer is appreciated!