Tag Archives: English

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.


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