28 Apr 2011

Wealth, electricity and signal [and the history of the world]

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It’s not at all surprising that wealth, electricity and mobile phone signal things are often found together, yet when viewed on a map the correlations remain striking. One further thing, that had not crossed my mind, is how the history of the world – at least according to online sources such as Wikipedia – also comes with a geographical distribution.

We had a about half an hour of head-scratching earlier this month when Google changed their maps API – our OpenSignalMaps heat map overlays continued to work but the map beneath disappeared. What resulted was a map of signal without the distractions of borders or even continents. As discussed previously these stripped down maps can be extremely informative. That’s when we took the below screen shot. Note that the empty areas do not mean no signal, just no readings – no-one is using OpenSignalMaps there.

Uncannily similar to the below wealth map, from http://www.econbrowser.com/

Econobrowser also include a famous image from Nasa of the Earth at night.From Nasa via Econobrowser The same pattern once again.

History of the world (according to wikipedia)
Gareth Lloyd and Tom Martin’s wonderful project A History of The World in 100s recently won History Hackday. They geocoded events from Wikipedia articles and then mapped them. You can find the full story and a video visualisation here. We knew Gareth back at Oxford and now he continues to work on brilliant stuff.

Below is their Fusion Tables based representation of the data.

These four maps represent four inequalities of quite different types, yet clearly correlated:
Inequality of infrastructure and opportunity – the signal map shows, more than anything, where people are using smart phones, perhaps the best technological tools for connecting people to others.
Inequality of wealth – the GDP density map shows where high concentrations of wealth have accumulated
Inequality of waste – the sky at night shows how much energy is wasted as light
Inequality of information footprint – This is perhaps the most important to note: we cannot doubt that Asia, South America have rich histories and those histories are (to a great extent) recorded but often not accessible in the sources we most often turn to – Wikipedia, or perhaps Google.

It is claimed that information is without borders. To a certain extent it is – it can travel quite happily between states (just as the signal heat map overflows borders). However it takes wealth, technology and electricity to access the greatest sources of information. With the distribution of material resources these virtual borders will be taken down.

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