Given A Map, A Lot Of People Have No Idea Where They Traveled (Or Where They Live)

world map
Glyn Lowe Photoworks, Flickr

While early explorers may have spent countless weeks plotting their journeys on maps and charting the best course to get to their destination, it seems many modern day travelers don’t have a clue about where they’re actually going.

A new study has found massive numbers of travelers can’t find their vacation destination on a world map. When asked where Cyprus was located, 53% of respondents were stumped, pointing to countries like Greece instead. This is despite having traveled to the Mediterranean island within the past year. Turkey also had recent visitors scratching their heads, with around half of those surveyed hard-pressed to locate the nearly 1,000 mile long country on an atlas.What’s most bizarre, however, is those people who seemed to have trouble locating their own country on a map. When asked where France was, a surprising 14% of French respondents pointed to their northern neighbor Belgium.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on the French. After all, remember this famous gaffe a few years back, when a Miss Teen USA contestant was asked why a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the US on a world map?



But it’s not just beauty pageant contestants that are stumped by geography. Even politicians can get tripped up, like in this interview where John McCain refers to the problems at the Iraq/Pakistan border…which doesn’t exactly exist.


And then there was the time that President Obama managed to visit all corners of the US, including “about 57 states”.



Do you think it matters that so many people are confused by world geography? Or is understanding maps irrelevant in this day and age of GPS and technology?

Geoguessr: The Internet’s Newest Educational Time Waster

Geoguessr
Where does this look like to you? I guessed central Mexico based on the Spanish signs and the mixture of dry soil and lush plants. Actually it’s Brazil. The next view I looked at showed the characteristic onion domes of a Russian Orthodox Church. I guessed Russia and was correct.

This is an addictive new online game called Geoguessr. It gives you random Google Street View images and you have to click on a world map to guess where they are. You’re awarded points based on how close you are.

It’s surprisingly addictive. My young son, already a fan of Google Maps and MarineTraffic.com, is becoming obsessed with it. So am I. The best way to wrack up points is to explore a little. Start heading down a foreign street, studying traffic signs, plants, and passersby. They’ll all give you clues as to where you are.

It’s also really difficult. I’ve mistaken Korean writing for Chinese, the Australian Outback for Nevada and New Zealand for Hawaii. No matter how well traveled you are, this game will trip you up and make you want to play again. So if your boss has stepped out of the office for a drink, click on Geoguessr and spend some time learning a bit about how the world looks.

The Pacific Ocean: Is It Really True That One-Third Of Young Americans Can’t Find It?

Pacific OceanWhile reading fellow Gadling blogger Chris Owen’s post about a Twitter mix-up between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, I was horrified to read that one-third of young Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean.

I was horrified, but not surprised. I taught for several years in a community college and no amount of public ignorance surprises me anymore – not after a student handed in a paper stating that Iraq and Afghanistan were cities.

But I’m always suspicious of statistics. It’s a well-known fact that 85 percent of all statistics are wrong, so I emailed Chris and asked for his source, which turned out to be the Around the World geography project. They cite a National Geographic study that found 29 percent of U.S. 18-24 year olds couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map.

Looking at the original study, it turns out they got it wrong. “Only” 21 percent of those quizzed couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean. The 2006 study quizzed 510 Americans aged 18-24 on a number of geographic issues. The one that concerns us here was a blank map test to see if the participants could correctly point out certain countries and geographic locations. Boundaries were clearly labeled; they simply needed to match the shape and location with the country or ocean.

The Pacific Ocean wasn’t the only hard-to-find location. A staggering 63 percent couldn’t find Iraq, despite near-constant media coverage. Closer to home, 50 percent couldn’t find New York state. Check out the link to read more disheartening statistics.

I suppose we could blame the educational system, but 48 percent of the participants said they had a geography class sometime between sixth grade and senior year, so I suspect the blame lies with parents for not instilling a desire to learn about the world and the young Americans themselves for not realizing this information could be useful.

When I was discussing this post at the breakfast table my7-year-old scoffed, “I know where the Pacific Ocean is!”

I decided to test him. He correctly pointed out the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. I stumped him on the Sea of Azov, though. Can’t let him get too big for his britches.

Of course he enjoys a key advantage – parents who channel his natural childhood curiosity into learning about the world around him and foster an enthusiasm for exploration and discovery.

In other words, we give a shit about his education.

[Image of the Pacific Ocean courtesy NASA]

Ethnic Element Of Boston Bombing Complicated By Geography Skills

bombingKilled and captured, Boston marathon suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are understandably a trending topic across social media platforms. That’s no surprise. Perhaps now some reasons behind the bombing will surface and we can begin to categorize the event, learn from it, vow to never forget and move along, albeit with a bit less of a secure feeling.

Also no surprise is that most of us have no idea where the Tsarnaev’s are from. Chechnya? Dagestan? The Czech Republic? The fact that nearly a third of U.S. young adults cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map comes back to bite us again.

To many Americans, where they came from is of little interest. But to others, where the bombing suspects came from does matter – a whole lot.

“The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation,” said Petr Gandalovič, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in a statement.

More importantly, the Czech Republic is committed, just as is the United States and many other nations, to fight terrorism. “We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect; there is no doubt about that,” adds Amb. Gandalovič.Chechnya, on the other hand, has a long and violent history of terrorism-like activities stemming back to the first Chechen war between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

The Los Angeles Times writes, “Chechen fighters have traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Caucasus regions for military and explosives training, joining their cause to a worldwide jihad.”

But the Tsarnaev brothers came to America at a very young age, were not known to associate with militants and looked very much like thousands of other students in the Boston area.

Out of cyberspace and off the airwaves, talk of the Boston bombing is right down on street level too. It’s the kind of topic that can be discussed with a perfect stranger as though continuing a conversation.

On Friday it was:

“…so they got one of them.”
“…they’re closing in on the other one.”
“…what I can’t figure out is why they did not plant the bomb(s) then get on the next plane out of town.”

I was at our local Apple Store in the afternoon. Talking to one of the sales people, the conversation was very much like the above. Safe, current, trending.

Then our chat took a different direction, highlighting just how dangerous our challenged knowledge of geography can be.

“This is going to be just like after 9-11,” said the Lebanese Apple employee. “I was in high school then and got hater looks and stares for years after that.”

She is not alone either. Anyone who looks to be even remotely Muslim will no doubt be on the receiving end of that suspicion, much like anyone who looked even remotely Asian was after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


[Photo credit – Flickr user ToastyKen]

Teaching Geography With Google Maps

Google Maps
Travelers aren’t born, they’re raised.

Last week we talked about how to connect with your kids while you’re away traveling. There are plenty of ways to get them interested in this great big world of ours while you’re both at home too. One of the best and easiest ways to fire their imagination is with Google Maps.

Like many good ideas in our family, my seven-year-old son thought of it first. He’s recently gotten into Internet Radio, especially Tonik Radio out of Dublin. Tonik and most other stations show a Google map with pointers to where their listeners are. I find it kind of freaky that our house is clearly indicated on a map for all the other listeners to see. The kid just thinks it’s cool. He’s of a generation that has always known the Information Age and thus has a whole different attitude towards privacy.

So as he listens to House and Trance he surfs the globe, looking up where the other Tonik Radio listeners are–the cluster of fans in Dublin, the farmer in Israel, and the guy in the apartment block in Sterlitimak, Russia. Zooming in with the power of satellite photography, he can see what far-off countries look like from above. In some places he can even use Google Street View.

Once he gets bored hunting down his fellow radio fans, he starts exploring the Terra Incognita of the spaces between the points. This week he conducted a close-up survey across the Pacific and happened upon the Johnston Atoll, a lonely little former U.S. military base that I had never heard of.

I also show him places where I’ve been. He got an aerial view of the amusement park in Baghdad where I ate mazgouf. When the satellite took its photo, a small plane was flying over the riverside park and left its shadow on the water of the Tigris. A week later I came into my office and he’d found it again. He’s learning to navigate.

I can even show him my past, hovering with him above the Danish farm where I was an exchange student back in my teens. I brought him up the country lane to the nearest highway and its bus stop, the same route I rode with my bike when I wanted to go to Slagelse, the nearest town. The hedge and ditch where I hid my bike before I caught the bus are still there.

Strangely, this obsession with the computer hasn’t killed his interest in regular maps or his light-up globe. So if you have a young kid who’s curious about the world, try surfing Google Maps. It’s more than a bit Orwellian, but it’s a lot of fun.

Image courtesy Google Maps, copyright 2011.