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It's a small world after all
October 26, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

"Less than 10% of the world's land is more than 48 hours of ground-based travel from the nearest city." In August, archeologists discovered what may be the oldest map in the world. Years ago, MetaFilter introduced us to the concept of the "upside-down map". But a new map released Friday attempts to illustrate how our improved transportation network has managed to consolidate distances on earth.
posted by jefficator (48 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd like to see a map that scales the country by how long travel by car takes using existing freeways and roads, preferably accounting for traffic congestion (IE 1 inch = 1 half hour of driving). Has anyone tried that? Seems that you could write a script with some navigation software to get you a rough idea, but I'm not a programmer.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:00 AM on October 26, 2009


I can't help but notice that the US seems to have developed a fetish for invading the "most remote" countries on that connectedness map.

Baffin Island and the Amazon better not look sideways at anyone.
posted by rokusan at 10:07 AM on October 26, 2009


Baffin Island and the Amazon better not look sideways at anyone.

We must be relentless in our war against trees
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2009


Looks like that's "assuming Antarctica doesn't exist"?

Quite a pretty depiction, though. Also, that 14k year old map is surprisingly representative, considering the art of the time.
posted by khafra at 10:14 AM on October 26, 2009


Hey, whadayaknow? It IS a small world after all.
posted by hippybear at 10:17 AM on October 26, 2009


that 14k year old map is surprisingly representative

Really? I was going to say my 4 year old was a better cartographer than that. All I could see was squiggly lines. The cave is represented by a bump, the mountain by...nothing and the "red deer" by a line.
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on October 26, 2009


Infographic of the Day: It's a Small World, Afterall

This is true. Distances are shrinking. "After" is closer to "all" than it used to be.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:20 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see a map that scales the country by how long travel by car takes using existing freeways and roads, preferably accounting for traffic congestion (IE 1 inch = 1 half hour of driving).

I guess you could go with averages, otherwise the scale around major cities would be made of silly putty: short during the night and other odd off-peak hours, and annoyingly long during peak traffic hours.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2009


That horizontal line in Africa looks incredibly straight. Is there a temporal anomaly along that line?
posted by qvantamon at 10:37 AM on October 26, 2009


the US seems to have developed a fetish for invading the "most remote" countries on that connectedness map.

What, you mean like Greenland and Tibet? I'm not seeing the correlation.
posted by echo target at 10:39 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


qvantamon, that'd be the edge of the Sahara.
posted by echo target at 10:41 AM on October 26, 2009


It was a bugger to find, but, here is the project group's page and this is a link to a full size version of the map. An Arcview version of the map can also be downloaded from the project page (Google maps layer in 5, 4,...).
posted by bonehead at 10:42 AM on October 26, 2009 [14 favorites]


I love this visualization of travel distance. But WTF did they have to clutter up the oceans with lines representing shipping lanes? Just leave the oceans blank and free from distraction, please.

Since we're discussing maps today, I loved this blog post about France, Reconstructed from Apparently Inadequate Data. Turns out you can make a map of L'Hexagon where the only inputs are the adjacency of the departments. Or so it says, I'm not sure I believe it.
posted by Nelson at 11:02 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops, forgot to also link Average Distance to the Nearest Road in the Conterminous United States.
posted by Nelson at 11:03 AM on October 26, 2009


But WTF did they have to clutter up the oceans with lines representing shipping lanes? Just leave the oceans blank and free from distraction, please.

Nelson, you can find that on the GEM project page, here.
posted by bonehead at 11:06 AM on October 26, 2009


Man, I know it. I went for a walk this morning, got a little distracted, and realized I had walked all the way to London.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 AM on October 26, 2009


That horizontal line in Africa looks incredibly straight. Is there a temporal anomaly along that line?

It's the Sahara. Time goes in. IT DOES NOT COME OUT.
posted by Atreides at 11:08 AM on October 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


That map of France is amazing. Although I'm a little skeptical about the overall shape. It must just be topologically similar and they scaled it around to try to make it fit. For instance, look at 78, 79 and 88. Why does that poke out rather than in, with the sides touching in the same way?

Also, this lines up with a math question I was thinking about AskMe-ing...
posted by DU at 11:11 AM on October 26, 2009


Years ago, MetaFilter introduced us to the concept of the "upside-down map".

No offense, jefficator, but I was seeing south-for-north world maps in school decades before MetaFilter even existed.

Also, the ads on the New Scientist web site were enough to provoke seizures. Ugh!

All that said, the access map was interesting, if a bit depressing. And never fear, China is working its darnedest to take care of that large inaccessible area on the Tibetan plateau.
posted by aught at 11:21 AM on October 26, 2009


mccarty.tim: "I'd like to see a map that scales the country by how long travel by car takes using existing freeways and roads, preferably accounting for traffic congestion (IE 1 inch = 1 half hour of driving). Has anyone tried that? Seems that you could write a script with some navigation software to get you a rough idea, but I'm not a programmer."

I don't know about a map that looks like that, but for the concepts behind it, take a look at Graph Theory. We can illustrate filthy light thief's idea of AM/PM traffic with the Asymmetric Travelling Salesman Problem(TSP). The TSP also gives an easy metaphor for considerations like foot vs. car vs. airplane travel and "well, what if there's a car crash slowing things down" (bottlenecking) . Fascinating stuff.
posted by boo_radley at 11:45 AM on October 26, 2009


I want to see Antarctica as a big black mass.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:04 PM on October 26, 2009


I recently started working in container shipping, and one of the first things I did was search out this map and stick a printout on my desk. I think I saw it in National Geographic or something and it just stuck in my head. Two months later I can assure you that, yes, the world really is that small, judging by the obscure destinations I get thrown at me daily and how easy it is to have something shipped from one end of the earth to the other.

That is, unless you want something shipped to inland Venezuela, in which case you are on your own. The shipping lines are awfully scared that their trucks will get nationalised before they can make it back to the depot.
posted by Acey at 12:17 PM on October 26, 2009


I also would be interested in attempts of visualizing real-time automobile traffic. Some examples do exist for public transport, though, e.g. Tom Carden's Travel Time Tube Map (applet with additional information), and Chris Lighfoot and Tom Steinberg's Time travel contour maps, redone by the stamen design guys.
posted by Henrik at 12:23 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


[...] considerations like foot vs. car vs. airplane travel

And that just reminded me to an old project by Jonathan Harris, Non-geographic mapping. (That's the We Feel Fine guy.)
posted by Henrik at 12:30 PM on October 26, 2009


There's some great maps here, plus a pretty awesome book out recently about radical cartography. This thread has some great examples of mapping used for purposes that extend beyond figuring out where you are -- thanks everyone!
posted by cubby at 12:42 PM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


The idea of a travel-time map interests me as well. Although it's probably against their TOS, you could probably get the data by scraping Google Maps. (Or you could use their API, probably a better idea.) At least for some destinations, they provide a travel time that factors in traffic. E.g., right now they are showing Manhattan to the center of Hartford, CT as 1h52' nominal but 2h20' corrected for traffic.

You could use the travel-time as the edge length between vertices, and then you could keep the angles the same as they are in real life, to make it look like a distorted version of a "regular" map.

The more I think about it, there are probably easier data sources to use (the old AAA guides used to have tables of travel-time-between-destinations in them). If you wanted to use rail or air transport instead of cars, it would be pretty simple. (Although the airline one wouldn't be that interesting, I don't think; the travel times pretty much mirror the actual geographic distances, although maybe you'd see some compression over long distances where faster planes are used.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2009


This is real interesting, but it I found it disappointing because it implies a level of general connectedness between nations that is not there. For example, the proximity and colors between the US and Cuba or between North Korea and South Korea imply a level of freedom to travel that does not exist politically.

It is a nice map of the ability of our technologies to allow us to command geography, but politics is the booby prize that prevents pure mobility.
posted by artlung at 1:04 PM on October 26, 2009


I can't help but notice that the US seems to have developed a fetish for invading the "most remote" countries on that connectedness map.

Disconnectedness defines danger.
posted by weston at 1:35 PM on October 26, 2009


I can't help but notice that the US seems to have developed a fetish for invading the "most remote" countries on that connectedness map.

What??? I don't get this at all. Unless the US has invaded Greenland, Tibet, the Australian Outback, and Saharan Africa. Iraq is very well-connected, and compared to other countries, Afghanistan isn't too bad either.
posted by zsazsa at 2:00 PM on October 26, 2009


Great post, thanks for putting this up.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:16 PM on October 26, 2009


Does BC just become wilderness north of Vancouver?
posted by aaronetc at 2:18 PM on October 26, 2009


Does BC just become wilderness north of Vancouver?

Much of BC is accessible only by sea or air, yes. Most people in BC live in a river valley or are perched on the coast. If there's a poor (or no) connection to the road network, some places can take quite a while to get to.
posted by bonehead at 2:23 PM on October 26, 2009


Map colored by distance to the nearest McDonald’s in the lower 48.
posted by fings at 2:32 PM on October 26, 2009


I can't help but notice that the US seems to have developed a fetish for invading the "most remote" countries on that connectedness map.

Maybe I was looking at the wrong map, or maybe I'm just too jaded/decaffeinated from looking at maps all day today (coincidence) but Afghanistan and Iraq both looked like 'dead' spots on that heatmap-looking one.

Weston's point was what I assumed was the real reason: nations less-connected to the world are likely to be less-connected to the world economy, and are therefore more, ugh, 'rogue' by definition... leading to conflict.

Maybe. Sort of. Something like that, anyway.
posted by rokusan at 2:47 PM on October 26, 2009


I like upside down maps, the point of which I always assumed was to point out, artistically, that our entire way of looking at earth (and by definition the solar system and universe) is at its heart completely arbitrary. South on top being just as 'correct' as anything else, for lack of any external reference point.

I remember that making me giddy with 'cool' when I was eight years old, in the same way 'I wonder if we all see colors the same?' did.
posted by rokusan at 2:49 PM on October 26, 2009


Looks like that's "assuming Antarctica doesn't exist"?

Indeed. Essentially all of it lies outside of the 48 hour mark. At around 500 miles from Argentina to the nearest point on the coast, some parts of the coast could in principle be reached within two days by boat in great weather, but you wouldn't get very far after that. (And, in practice, I gather it usually takes many days even to reach the coast.) That adds another 9% to the land mass figure above. But, discounting uninhabited land masses isn't particularly misleading.

Using distance by land and sea as a proxy for remoteness seems a bit strange. Are parts of northern Canada that can be reached in a few hours by hired plane really more remote than some small canyon town in the Tarahumara that takes 15 hours and costs nearly as much (scaled to local income) to reach by hired car? Not in any way that particularly matters to the people who live there, unless they're trying to ship heavy cargo. This is certainly an interesting data set, but "access" seems like a dangerously broad term for travel time by land to major cities.

A more telling map might be the cost, as a fraction of local income, to transport a person (a bushel of low value agricultural product, a TB of data, etc) to the nearest major city. But, I imagine that's a much harder data set to compile.

Also, for those who find it useful, here's a version the larger map from bonehead's link above which includes legend.
posted by eotvos at 2:51 PM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see a map that scales the country by how long travel by car takes using existing freeways and roads, preferably accounting for traffic congestion (IE 1 inch = 1 half hour of driving). Has anyone tried that?

Not exactly what you're describing, but related.

Those folks have made a lot of maps.
posted by Commander Rachek at 2:54 PM on October 26, 2009


About "disconnectedness defines danger" -- disconnectedness is explained in Thomas Barnett's glossary thus:
In this century, it is disconnectedness that defines danger. Disconnectedness allows bad actors to flourish by keeping entire societies detached from the global community and under their dictatorial control, or in the case of failed states, it allows dangerous transnational actors to exploit the resulting chaos to their own dangerous ends. Eradicating disconnectedness is the defining security task of our age, as well as a supreme moral cause in the cases of those who suffer it against their will. Just as important, however, by expanding the connectivity of globalization, we increase peace and prosperity planet-wide.
Barnett often talks about this topic on his blog.
posted by artlung at 3:00 PM on October 26, 2009


rokusan: Here's a closeup. They aren't really dead spots, but they're not exactly hopping, either.
posted by zsazsa at 3:28 PM on October 26, 2009


(Is this a double? I could swear I've seen it linked here before a few months ago, but I can't find anything in search. Am I going mad?)
posted by Sova at 3:53 PM on October 26, 2009


Am I going mad?

Is this up for a general vote?
posted by hippybear at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


@eotvos
Antarctica is more inhabited and just as accessible as the South Georgia Islands, but they make it on to the map. I think cartographers just hate to have a great big landmass messing with the nice neat edges of their maps.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 4:21 PM on October 26, 2009


Am I going mad?

Is this up for a general vote?


I'M NOT INSANE!!!11!! I CLAIM MY OFFICIAL METAFILTER "I SPOTTED A DOUBLE THAT NOBODY ELSE DID" MUG AND KEYCHAIN.

THIS IS THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY.
posted by Sova at 4:38 PM on October 26, 2009


If true, it is sort of comforting to know that Tibet has parts of which are as much as three weeks away from a city - with the journey comprising 20 days on foot. Although I guess with the right arrangements a helicopter could get you there quickly.
posted by Rashomon at 4:54 PM on October 26, 2009


I really liked this.
posted by !Jim at 11:47 PM on October 26, 2009


Does BC just become wilderness north of Vancouver?

In a word, yes. Especially directly north of the Vancouver area: it's the Coastal Mountain region. Big, steep mountains and a lot of glaciation. I'm sure there are old logging exploration roads through much of it, but those aren't particularly amenable to getting from A to B, unless "A" is a mill and "B" is a logging site.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:52 PM on October 27, 2009


I was rather stunned by this map from the New Scientist slideshow...I've been so used to seeing ground cover maps lump all kinds of desert together that the difference between the southwest U.S. ("shrub cover") and the Sahara/Arabia ("bare areas") was disorienting.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:13 PM on November 1, 2009


There are a lot less evergreen conifers than I thought. And most of the ones on the NA map are going to be dead soon. Must be a bitch being a conifer; the deciduous really seem to have the advantage.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:30 PM on November 1, 2009


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