The blank spaces on the map

Historical map of the world by Ortelius, 1570 A.D. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Historical map of the world by Ortelius, 1570 A.D. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WordPress is great at providing statistics. I can see how many visitors I’ve had today, last week, on any previous month, or even for all time. What I love most, though, is the world map, with its spectrum of color. Like some hungry Napoleon, I survey my geographic reach: 124 countries to date. Countries with the most viewers show up deep red; those with the next largest contingents appear bright orange, and those with only one or two viewers are pale peach. Places with none show up white.

On one hand, I marvel that some curious soul in Bhutan or Ethiopia or New Caledonia has bothered to glance at my blog. On the other, the map provides a telling glimpse of holes in the blogosphere.

Language, of course, is a key driver. If you don’t speak English, you aren’t going to read a blog in English. That a blog like mine is read in places where English is not the spoken language is a testament to the emergence of English as a lingua franca. (Or is it a sign of American imperialism and the globalization of culture?) Either way, I prefer to imagine that the person viewing my blog in Cambodia or Paraguay is a non-native speaker working to improve her English, like the school girls I once met in Vietnam who were so eager to trade email addresses, rather than some American expatriate or tourist killing time at an internet cafe.

Wealth is another obvious driver. If you live below the poverty level, you aren’t likely to surf the web whether you speak English or not. When I look at the blank spaces on my map—much of sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti and Honduras in the Western Hemisphere, and many of the “stans” (Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan) in Central Asia—language could be an inhibitor, but I suspect poverty is the real barrier.

The most glaring holes in my map occur where language, poverty and authoritarianism converge to create eerie Bermuda Triangles of whiteness. I’m referring to those countries where my blog clearly can’t be read: China, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. At one point, I thought Myanmar and Syria belonged to this sad club of censorship, but then, to my astonishment, hints of color appeared there. Just one or two visitors from each, but that’s a beginning. I can only hope the door to those last four holdouts will someday open as well. Of course, by expressing myself freely here I have dimmed my chances; it’s just this kind of criticism that these paternalistic societies fear most and aim to prevent.



Filed under Commentary

15 responses to “The blank spaces on the map

  1. I would tend to go with globalization of culture. The white patches are indeed a sad fact of censorship as well as the obvious language issue in other parts. I always hope for a day without censorship where views can be expressed freely. As an aside, I love this post and I have a thing for old maps. I also spend time looking at where my blog views are located and the more obscure the place in terms of unexpected reach, the more curious I become. Thanks for this post, Tom. As always, really interesting insight.

  2. Goya

    Love the idea, gracias Tom. In fact I bought a nineteen century map of Chile in my country. Maps are very interesting pieces…

  3. Modern day cartography, where the places come to you! it is fascinating to wonder upon those single digit countries and who came by for a look and what they were searching for. Having said that I have had one solitary view from China, which was last year so maybe the times are indeed a-changing…

  4. The countries bit wasn’t really of much interest to me before but you have opened up an interesting topic here, I will be keeping an eye on it. I think my blog is so un-subversive they probably got away with it.

  5. David Preston

    The reason you don’t get more interest from sub-Saharan Africa is that you don’t discuss issues that are of interest to folks there. If you talk more about camels and how the yam crop is doing this year, that could really turn things around for you.
    As far as the Haitian thing goes, I can’t figure that one out. I would have thought the Haitian people would be gaga over this blog.
    Just shows to go ya.

  6. Dude! The whole continent of Africa lit up like a telephone exchange when you said that.

  7. Say something about Stan now.

  8. It is a too explicit example of how to turn some countries invisible in economic, political and socially. Ignoring them on the map…
    Thanks , Tom

    • Thanks, Aquileana. I have recently learned that a blogger about evolution has actually received a hit from North Korea, so perhaps there is hope for all countries!

  9. “..language, poverty and authoritarianism converge to create eerie Bermuda Triangles of whiteness.” Beautifully written, as always, Tom.

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