170 - A Map of the Internet's Black Holes
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
The series of tubes famously dubbed the ‘internets’ by president G.W. Bush* constitute a world wide web of interconnectedness. But, as this map demonstrates, there are some black holes in that web. They represent the 15 countries that limit or prohibit their citizens’ access to internet as a way of censoring the free flow of information.
Perhaps most notorious among those countries is China, with its Great Firewall (and its insistence on self-censorship by non-Chinese companies operating within the Middle Kingdom). Other countries also maintain firewalls, notably Saudi Arabia, while less-developed nations might just not allow their citizens to own computers.
This map was commissioned by Reporters Without Borders, which also publishes a World Ranking of press freedom. As the list of the 15 internet-restricting countries (followed by their ranking on said list) indicates, internet censorship is a strong indicator of press censorship in general:
1. Maldives (144) 2. Tunisia (148) 3. Belarus (151) 4. Libya (152) 5. Syria (153) 6. Vietnam (155) 7. Uzbekistan (158) 8. Nepal (159) 9. Saudi Arabia (161) 10. Iran (162) 11. China (163) 12. Myanmar/Burma (164) 13. Cuba (165) 14. Turkmenistan (167) 15. North Korea (168 and very last on the list)
I happened to be in one of those countries earlier this year. While attempting to go online in a hotel, I was told that the “internet was closed for the day.” I should try again the next day, when there was supervision. Which I did as early as possible: had I waited too long, the internet undoubtedly would have been on its lunch break.
* : it was Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who called the internet ‘a series of tubes’. George W. Bush referred to the world wide web as ‘the internets’ both in the 2000 and the 2004 presidential election campaigns.
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