If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth ten thousand. Maps illuminate the world and its intricacies, highlighting interesting trends across the world. I love maps because they can often give a quick snapshot of complicated numbers or situations, showing statistics clearly in a way that’s easy to understand. These are my 10 favorite world maps, each of which comments on the economical, political, or social state of the world in its own way:
1. Worldwide income levels
Money rules the world. In the end, the explanation to most questions about the world affairs is an economical one. The above map gives a snapshot of the world, divided in high (traditionally defined as the west), upper middle, lower middle, and low income. Commonly we have three clear classifications of countries, sometimes referred to as the first, second, and third world. The first world is traditionally defined as the United States and its allies (Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Western Europe, Japan, South Korea), the second world as former Soviet Union and its allies (Eastern Europe, varied countries throughout South America and the Middle East), and third world as remaining countries with low income (Africa, much of Asia, parts of south America). Much of the global economic and financial system is built to maintain this status quo, with military and political treaties giving favorable advantages in resource allocation and land use to first world countries in the ‘high’ income bracket.
2. The South-East Asian population bomb
Encompassing the populous nations of India, Burma, Pakistan, China, Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam among others, the above circle has more people living inside it than out. China and India alone, with respective populations of 1.36 billion and 1.25 billion, represent 1/3rd of the global population. Indonesia has the world’s fourth largest population, with 250 million. Even unassuming countries in the region such as Bangladesh have populations of over 155 million, nearly double the size of most European countries.
3. Opposing Alliances – USA led NATO and Russian led CSTO
While political events often seem circumstantial or random, frequently they are the cause of an overarching geopolitical struggle. Reminiscent of the 1950-1980s when the world was divided between American backed North American Treaty Organization and the Soviet backed Warsaw Pact countries, the world is once again split into two clear opposing alliances. The United States continues to head NATO while Russia under Putin has forged a new military bloc – the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO. Proxy conflict between these two military giants is already beginning, mostly notably in Ukraine.
4. The most photographed places in the world
Western Europe and enclaves on the eastern United States remain the most photographed places in the world. A result of tourism and wealth, frequented destinations are the most likely to be photographed. The top 5 most photographed cities marked above are:
1. New York City, USA
2. Rome, Italy
3. Barcelona, Spain
4. Paris, France
5. Istanbul, Turkey
5. How Google Maps handles border disputes
Google maps has come up with an ingenious way to handle border disputes. Depending on the user’s country, the online map will return different results and border locations. The map above shows Kashmir, a mountainous region claimed by Pakistan, India, and China. In India, the border stretches north and east, while Chinese users will see the same region of Kashmir as Chinese territory. When a user from a neutral country, such as Germany shown above, accesses the same map, they’ll see each regional neighbor’s claims in dotted lines.
6. Writing systems of the world
The world is divided by languages. While Latin holds sway over much of the Americas, South-East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa as a result of European colonialism, Arabic dominates the Middle East. Russia’s Cyrillic stands alone, a clear example of the many chasms between Russian and Western culture. Other isolated nations have been able to retain their writing systems through persistent effort and deep ethnic and cultural traditions. Amharic lives on in Ethiopia as a result of decades of violent struggle against European powers with allowed Ethiopian culture to incubate and survive. China, India, Japan, Armenia, and Georgia are all geographically isolated, surrounded on nearly all sides by very rigid natural barriers. These traits have forced these cultures together, maintaining their writing systems in the face of Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic, which dominate nearly all of the other countries.
7. New world vs old: nations with automatic birthright citizenship
Here’s one you don’t usually think about: the new world vs the old. The new world is built on generations and centuries of immigration, leading the governments and societies to adopt generally friendly stances towards immigration and citizenship, granting birthright citizenship to anyone born in the country. The rest of the world, from Europe to Asia to Africa, all deny instant birthright citizenship, instead determining citizenship by lineage.
8. Driving orientation by country
Driving orientation is arguably one of the British Empire’s most visible lasting effects on its former colonies. British former colonies such as India/Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all retain the peculiar fashion of driving on the opposite side of the road. Even in China, Hong Kong adamantly continues to drive on the left, causing confusion and havoc for Chinese mainlands who are accustomed to driving in the standard style. It’s a clear reminder of the English economic powerhouse that used to set worldwide policy, and a sign that the sun may never truly set on the British Empire.
9. Countries that still use the metric system
Luckily America isn’t alone in its continued use of the metric system – it’s joined by Liberia and Myanmar.
In many peoples mind a relic of the past, monarchy is surprisingly still alive and well in various forms throughout the world. While many states merely maintain their monarch as a figurehead, some, such as Oman and Saudi Arabia, give their kings absolute authority. Funded by their huge oil reserves, monarchies throughout the Middle East have endured the 20th century by promoting strict adherence to Islamic religious customs and traditional societal roles.
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