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Jeruba's avatar

Do you ever go online and just study on the map of some country or region of the world?

Asked by Jeruba (55940points) August 13th, 2021

Physician and author Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone) said: “Geography is destiny.”

I’ve just been studying a map of southern Asia, reminding myself of how Afghanistan is situated and who shares its borders. It brought the Verghese quote to mind. Afghanistan’s tragic destiny seems to be playing out again now as a consequence of its geography.

I spent a long time one night scrolling all around a map of Russia, an unimaginably immense area that is 74% larger than the U.S., even reduced as it is from the size of the U.S.S.R., and wondering yet again how anyone could possibly have the audacity to try to govern that whole business. It’s no wonder the last czar lost his grip. China’s land mass is very close to that of the U.S., and it too looks oppressively enormous in the span of Asia.

Another night I scrolled back and forth and up and down over the many strands and reaches of the routes collectively known as the Silk Road. Then I Googled some of the exotic names that appeared and studied the photos, trying to glimpse and imagine what life could be like there.

And then I might pick a small region of coastal Britain and just zero in on the villages and landscapes and shoreline. Sometimes those visits feel more like traversing time than space.

Now and then I also take a Google Streetview tour of, say, Amsterdam or Mexico City, traveling major thoroughfares and peering down alleys.

These imaginary journeys are fascinating and can sometimes keep me in thrall for hours.

Does anybody else around here visit maps and images of foreign places in this way? And if so, what do your virtual travels mean to you?


Note, this is not meant to be an invitation to hammer on American politics. Even though this question is in Social, let’s not take it there.

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17 Answers

Demosthenes's avatar

All the time.

Geography has been a major hobby of mine ever since I was a child and had placemats and posters with the U.S. states and countries of the world on them (which facilitated my memorization of them). That quickly turned into perusing physical atlases and maps, online atlases, and now most frequently Google Maps and Street View. I will often spend time going on a “Street View tour” of a random place around the world. It could be somewhere in California, maybe some place I’ve already been but I want to see how it’s changed; or it could be a place I know I’m not likely to visit but I can feel like I’ve been there by looking at the streets. Other times I’ll be reading about a place and wish to “follow along” by seeing for myself the places being described (as I did recently while reading a travel book about Mexico. I traced the author’s journey and virtually explored many of the places he recounted). I’ve probably seen more of Japan on Street View than I could ever see in person in a lifetime (I’ve only been there once and sadly didn’t venture much outside of Tokyo).

My recent interests include the immensity of the Amazon rainforest, the diverse geography of Chile, the coastline of Australia, and the Greek islands.

Kardamom's avatar

Yes. I watch a lot of foreign dramas on Netflix and I like to see the areas where the shows are set.

In the last year I’ve watched movies from, and looked up maps of, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Ardennes Forest in France, and Iceland.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes. I don’t usually get as close in as you describe; I don’t usually get down to street level when looking at places outside of the US unless I am planning a trip, or I know someone in the location; but I do look at maps of other continents to try to lock into my brain the geography.

Maps of the US I study more closely, especially when I will be traveling somewhere new. I tell me husband, “you have to stare at the map.” He didn’t grow up using maps, he didn’t know what I was talking about for years. You have to spend time looking at a map to discover all the possibilities. Finally, when we moved to North Carolina, it clicked for him. He had struggled with understanding the roads there and finally looked at a map that I had left open (a paper map) and suddenly he was explaining to me what he discovered on the map.

GPS navigation has screwed up getting the big picture for my husband. He has reverted back to his old ways, just following the prompts given by the voice that tells him when to turn. I know so many people who do this. I still have to look at the entire journey first, I need to see where the GPS is planning to take me. I do zoom in to street level to figure out where I might stop to eat or a scenic view.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Often. But usually with paper maps and books.

janbb's avatar

Yes. Usually sparked by something I am reading or a place I want to know more about.

flutherother's avatar

If you were to visit my home you would find on the bookcase in the lounge a large globe of the world and on the shelves beneath a copy of Collins World Atlas, Collins Comprehensive Road Atlas of Britain and Ireland and numerous Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland at a scale of 1:50,000. I also have a few travel maps and guides to China.

I have always been interested in landscapes and maps and the Internet allows me to indulge my curiosity to an almost infinite extent. I love Google Earth and I love exploring places in the news, or places where family members have lived or have travelled. I can see the huge swathes of Brazilian rain forest that have been chopped down and burned and the urban sprawl that is burgeoning around American cities.

Sometimes I find a nice town by an Italian lake with a café overlooking the water and I imagine sitting beneath one of those red umbrellas you can see in Street View. Or I might follow a mountain road in the Rockies to see what the views are like on the way to the summit. Or I’ll visit the immense emptiness of north western Australia where you can stand on the coast and look out across the Pacific with no sound but the crashing waves.

PS I recently read David Reich’s book on pre historic population movements which shows how crucial climate and geography have been throughout mankind’s past. The only thing that is different today is the pace of change is accelerating.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Yes. Many times per day.
Every time I hear about a news story with a location I have to look and see where it is – and get a feel for the area. We have one wall in the kitchen completely covered in maps. That gives me the big picture but for details there is nothing like google maps.

Google has found my time wasting weakness.

canidmajor's avatar

Oh, yes, a rabbit hole I often fall down! I also try to get a sense of the topography and weather in a given area. Then I dive into language and currency, and search for pictures of people and stuff. It can be triggered by almost anything, frequently a crossword clue.

raum's avatar

Oh yeah. I’m a curious person and that’s just one itch I like to scratch.

Just found this neat website the other day, Historical Aerials.

I like to see how things have changed over the years. :)

Jeruba's avatar

Your stories are fascinating! Thank you. I’d love to hear more.

I regret that when I was in eighth grade I thought my geography class was boring. I think it was all the imports and exports; I just wasn’t moved by cheese and rubber and textiles. Textiles. Honestly, who had ever seen a textile? And it was hard to relate to “national costumes” when we didn’t have any and had no idea what they really meant to the culture.

So I did enough to get a B (disappointing my teacher, a lovely man who was grieved by our lack of interest) and took in as little as possible.

Since then I’ve often wished I’d taken the opportunity to get a solid grounding in world geography, politics, economics, and the rest, even if it’s all out of date now, so I could have understood things better as they unfolded. There’s been a lot of remedial work since. Those historical relationships still figure in the international balance. Having a better perspective on ourselves would do and would have done the U.S. a lot of good, in my opinion.

I shortchanged my science and history classes in the same way. Teaching teenagers must be enormously frustrating.

Zaku's avatar

Yes. I have a general interest in maps, geography, and history, all of which get me to look at maps. But also I have a hobby and profession in gaming (historical and fantasy games) which also get me studying maps, using maps in games, and making maps.

raum's avatar

@Jeruba I loved history but was dreadful at it. Loved the stories. Could never remember the dates. :P

flutherother's avatar

If you are interested in geography and travel you might find this video entertaining. I know I did.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Yes! Street view is the best!
I thought of a game for us here to play perhaps. A jelly decribes the area-maybe landmarks, fun facts, coordinates, etc…, we try to guess where they are. Winner receives the lurve from every player.
That’s just the initial idea. Where’s the jelly?
Even if we all just did our own general area, that’s 60+ to guess.

smudges's avatar

No, I’ve never done that. But it sounds amazing. Every now and then something will just jump out and remind that there’s a whole world with billions of people who don’t live anything like me! For example…I bead, and have seen videos of African women hand making beads that I’ve actually used! They’re just sitting in the dirt under the hot sun, in their brightly-colored clothes, rolling beads in their hands and poking a hole in them with a stick!

Thanks for the idea!!

Patty_Melt's avatar

Maps, yes, but also videos posted of certain areas.

Just today I was touring the Wakhan Corridor, both at ground level, and by drone.

A couple of months ago I was surprised by some videos in Africa, not surprised by others.

Funny, an unclaimed country there.
Tragic, how badly the Nile is being diminished.
Criminal, how China has behave mining diamonds there.
Pictographs in Saharan caves are interesting, exposing it as lush in the distant past.

Right now I’m in Mongolia. Throat singing rockers are hot.
The real estate Chinggis Khaan dominated is amazing.

Forever_Free's avatar

I do it all the time.

It can start from something I read in a book and want to learn more about or a piece of news that I need to more informed about.

I love the journey. I love the learning part.
Last night I was watching the 2013 movie “The Railway Man” and I became immersed in the Burma-Thai Railway (Death Railway)

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