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Dark Continents: A Critique of Internet

Terry Harpold
Georgia Institute of Technology

© 1999 Terry Harpold.
All rights reserved.

"The Blankest of Blank Spaces"[1]


Figure 1. "Map of Africa, Showing
Its Most Recent Discoveries."
W. Williams, Philadelphia, 1859.

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

[Figure 2]

Figure 2. Detail of Figure 1.
Note the blank field straddling the
equator, labeled "UNKNOWN INTERIOR."

It was in 1868, when nine years old or thereabouts, that
while looking at a map of Africa of the time and putting my
finger on the blank space then representing the unsolved
mystery of that continent, I said to myself, with absolute
assurance and an amazing audacity which are no longer in my
character now:

"When I grow up, I shall go there."

And of course I thought no more about it till after a
quarter century or so an opportunity offered to go there--as
if the sin of childish audacity were to be visited on my
mature head. Yes. I did go there: there being the region of
Stanley Falls, which in '68 was the blankest of blank spaces
on the earth's figured surface.

--Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record

1. Joseph Conrad's account of his discovery of a map of Africa in
his grandfather's library is among the most famous anecdotes of
modern literary biography. (Which map he found is unknown; it
must have resembled one published by W. Williams of Philadelphia
about nine years earlier [Figures 1 and 2].) Marlow, Conrad's
narrator, will repeat the memory as his own in the opening
chapter of Heart of Darkness; Conrad will describe the event
again near the end of his career, in a sympathetic essay on the
British Empire's great explorers. As Christopher GoGwilt has
shown, the seductions of the map's "unsolved mystery" are central
to Conrad's authorial project; they bind the physical and
imaginary geographies of his fictions to one of the defining
visual tropes of high colonialism (126).[2] The period of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the most active
of the modern partitioning of Africa, with a half-dozen European
powers scrambling for position on the continent through
territorial exploration and appropriation, armed conflict, and
diplomatic negotiation. This activity depended on the accuracy
and completeness of the maps used by the Europeans to describe
their African possessions (McIlwaine 59-62).

2. Now, maps, in the narrow sense of the word--pictorial
representations of a physical terrain, commonly in the form of
planar (2D) projections--are never merely descriptive; they are
also heuristic, suasive, and hegemonic. (My reasons for
stipulating this narrow definition of "map" will become clear
shortly.) Individuals, communities, and nations rely on them to
manage spatial and political complexity that would otherwise
exceed human perception and memory, and to adjudicate claims of
ownership and jurisdiction. Mapping appears to be fundamental to
human consciousness of space and time. All cultures record their
experience in artifacts which are consumed in plainly maplike
ways, though these artifacts may little resemble the
brightly-colored wall hangings that most Americans (for example)
recall from grade-school geography classes.[2] This universality
of mapping practices may account for the persuasiveness of a
broader, more metaphorical sense of the term "map" used in many
disciplines and technical practices to describe any intentional
structuring of space, time, or knowledge--thus we speak of "maps"
of a text, "map" views of data, "cognitive maps," and so on.

3. Because they are fundamentally cultural things, maps (again, in
the narrow sense) are embedded in the epistemological and
ideological structures that Roland Barthes calls the
"mythologies" of semiological systems (111). The "unsolved
mystery" Conrad discovers in the map of the Congolese interior
names one such mythologizing structure. We may safely assume that
the mapmaker did not believe there were no topographically
significant features in the region left blank, only that no
European had witnessed and described those features. (This is
precisely the sense of the observation encoded in the label
"UNKNOWN INTERIOR" in Figure 2.) The blank region is "empty" only
in relation to the comparable fullness of the rest of the map.
The blank represents the essence of late nineteenth century
Africa as an absence: as the negative of the evidentiary
transparency of the European landscape (in this discourse,
"European" always connotes fullness, completeness, transparency).
To fill the blank is what colonial exploration and territorial
appropriation are, in a sense, all about. One may be tempted here
to cite childhood curiosity regarding the taboo or the invisible,
and to invoke the language of screen memories and primal scenes,
but that is not necessary to demonstrate the significance of the
unfinished region of the map for Conrad and his contemporaries.
Tie the epistemological puzzles of the blank to the opportunistic
interests of capital and the evangelical fervor of the Christian
missionary (neither of which operated in isolation from the
other), and you have a sufficiently broad practical foundation
upon which to sustain multiple desires to transect symbolically
and materially the empty field of this imaginary terrain: with
rivers, lakes, trade routes, roads, railways, and territorial

4. Consider now two examples from a series of more recent maps.
Figure 3 shows one of several widely-reproduced images created by
Kenneth Cox, Stephen G. Eick, and Taosong He, and described in
their influential 1996 paper on 3D network visualization

[Figure 3]

Figure 3. "Arc map" showing worldwide Internet traffic
during a two-hour period, February 1-7, 1993.
(Image © 1996 Stephen G. Eick, Visual Insights.
Used by permission.)

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

5. Shown here is one frame of an animation of Internet traffic
between fifty countries via the NFSNET/ANSnet backbone during a
two-hour period of the week of February 1-7, 1993. Each country
with active nodes on the network is represented by a box-shaped
glyph, positioned at the location of the country's capital, and
scaled and colored to encode the total packet count for all links
emanating from the country. The arcs between the countries
indicate the flow of network traffic, with the higher and redder
arcs indicating the larger flows. One of the most striking traits
of this image is its dissymmetry: the greater part of the arcs
and glyphs are traced on the upper-left field (roughly North and
West, in relation to the equator and Greenwich meridian). Pinning
the origins of the arcs to the capitals of countries
underrepresents the actual geographical distribution of traffic,
but it's clear that, apart from a few arcs converging in
Pretoria, there is nothing much going in or coming out of the
Africa in early 1993.

6. Figure 4 shows another projection from the series by Cox, Eick,
and He. This "arc map" traces the same traffic flows and uses a
similar color-coding scheme, applying it to a 2D projection,
viewed on a variable vertical axis.[5]

[Figure 4]

Figure 4. "Arc map" showing worldwide Internet traffic
during a two-hour period, February 1-7, 1993.
(Image © 1996 Stephen G. Eick, Visual Insights.
Used by permission.)

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

Like the image in Figure 3, this image encodes Internet traffic
statistics in arc height, color, and thickness. Cox, Eick, and
He's stated aim in producing these maps was to improve the
usability of network visualizations based on cartographic
techniques. Shifting the traffic arcs into a third dimension,
they propose, and encoding them with height and color to indicate
relative bandwidth and flow, eliminates the complex line
crossings that would make 2D maps of the same data difficult to

7. These are arresting images. Their play of light (the neon hues of
the arcs) and dark (the black background) must have been dictated
to some degree by technical considerations. They were created for
viewing on computer terminals, and the techniques available to
the researchers were those best suited to the cathode ray and the
binary logic of computing: one/zero, on/off, traffic/no traffic.
One consequence of that (probably automatic) choice of
representational schemes is, however, problematic: the binarisms
of data flow are recast in an analogous but distinct tropology of
fullness and emptiness: a light "on" (brighter still when
exceptionally "on"); a light "off" (entirely absent when truly
"off": darkness visible). The lines of Internet traffic look more
like beacons in the night than, say, undersea cables, satellite
relays, or fiber-optic cables. Moreover, the decision to include
national borders in Figure 4, and to fill them in with solid hues
representing the intensity of traffic to and from each nation,
binds the viewer's visual identification of those nations to the
valences of the network. Even at this oblique angle, it is easy
to identify the outlines of Australia, India, Western Europe,
Alaska, etc. The identities of the networked regions are in turn
reified by their apparent internal uniformity--all spaces within
their borders are of a single color representing the national
level of traffic, thus eliminating any suggestion that the
diffusion of network signals may vary locally. The unnetworked
nations seem equally uniform, but in an opposite sense: framed
voids, they would merge with the empty background, were it not
for their faint borders. Thus, the fusion in these images of a
tropology of presence/absence and fullness/emptiness with
conventional signifiers of regional and nation encodes the traces
of network activity with meanings beyond the mere visual
registering of place-names. Viewed with an eye to their
unacknowledged political valences, these images of the wired
world (that is, of the mostly unwired world) draw, I will argue,
on visual discourses of identity and negated identity that echo
those of the European maps of colonized and colonizable space of
nearly a century ago.[6]

8. This essay is based on research in progress which interrogates
these and similar cartographic representations of the Internet as
a first step in a critique of the complicity of techniques of
scientific visualization with the contrasting invisibility of
political and economic formations. I propose that these
depictions of network activity are embedded in unacknowledged and
pernicious metageographies--sign systems that organize
geographical knowledge into visual schemes that seem
straightforward (how else to illustrate global Internet traffic
if not on images of... the globe?), but which depend on
historically- and politically-inflected misrepresentation of
underlying material conditions.

9. I borrow the word "metageographies" from Martin Lewis and Kären
Wigen's recent study of mapping discourses, The Myth of
Continents. Lewis and Wigen's analysis of the genealogy of
Eurocentric constructions of continental geography and East/West,
Europe/Asia/Africa/American divisions of the human world is an
invaluable model for deciphering the conventions of Internet
cartography. Their call for new, politically-progressive
articulations of the relations of material and social human
spaces to political power suggests that an analogous reworking of
visualizations of emerging virtual realms is needed at this time.
"It is simply no longer tenable," they write,

to assume that all significant high-order spatial units will
take the form of discrete, contiguous blocks; analyzing
contemporary human geography requires a different
vocabulary. Instead of assuming contiguity, we need a way to
visualize discontinuous "regions" that might take the
spatial form of lattices, archipelagos, hollow rings, or
patchworks. Such patterns certainly have not displaced the
older cultural realms, which continue to be important for
the multiple legacies they have left behind. But in the late
twentieth century the friction of distance is much less than
it used to be; capital flows as much as human migrations can
rapidly create and re-create profound connections between
distant places. As a result, some of the most powerful
sociospatial aggregations of our day simply cannot be mapped
as single, bounded territories. To grasp these new realities
will demand an imaginative approach to regional definition;
to map them effectively will demand an innovative approach
to cartography. (200)

The lines of force defining information flow in the networked and
unnetworked spheres are not merely geographical or technological;
they are also--and irreducibly--political.

The Blind Spot of Cartography

[Figure 5]

Figure 5. The Bellman's chart,
from Henry Holiday's 1876 illustrations to
The Hunting of the Snark.

He had brought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found
it to be
A map they could all understand.

What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and
Tropics, Zones and Meridian lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would
"They are merely conventional signs!

"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands
and capes!
But we've got our brave captain to thank"
(So the crew would protest) "that he's brought
us the best--
perfect and absolute blank!"
--Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark[7]

10. Few readers of maps are so canny as the Bellman's happy crew in
Carroll's mock epic. Late twentieth-century postindustrial
culture is saturated with maps; we rely on them daily in myriad
ways, without taking much notice of their specificity or
conventionality. Denis Wood has argued that this near ubiquity of
maps and mapping technologies contributes to map-users' general
inattention to the cultural and historical props of maps (34). In
this section, I offer two general observations regarding the form
and effects of cartographic representations of real and virtual

11. First observation. Maps depict a selective distortion of the
information available to those who design them. Mark Monmonier
has famously observed that maps must as a matter of course
mislead their users, if (1) the maps are to be legible at all,
and if (2) the maps are to address the specific purposes for
which they were designed. The first of these conditions is based
in the physical limitations of paper, print, and video
technologies, and the capabilities of the human eye. Everything
that is noteworthy about a place will not fit on the page or
screen; some levels of detail will have to be excluded (and the
shapes and placement of some landmarks altered) to avoid filling
the map with illegible, overlapping blots. The second condition
is an extension of this common-sense constraint on graphic
design, and a consequence of the semiological and cultural work
of maps: which cartographic details are to be shown in a given
map will be determined by technical or strategic forces that bear
no necessary relation to the map's general "accuracy"; details
are commonly eliminated, falsified, or distorted so as to improve
a map's efficacy toward a particular end, resulting in the
misrepresentation or exclusion of information which may serve
other ends or reveal inconsistencies.[8]

[Figure 6]

Figure 6. Mercator's projection.

12. For example, the Mercator projection (Figure 6) is helpful if you
need to plot a constant navigational bearing between two points
at sea (you just draw a straight line--a rhumb line--on the map),
but its gross distortion of regions near the poles makes it a
poor device for understanding the relative sizes of Greenland and
South America. Use of the Mercator projection as a
general-reference map (still common in the U.S.) is a cause for
frequent complaint by cartographers, who insist that the
projection was designed to facilitate ocean navigation in the
16th century, and is thus ill-suited to modern applications where
the plotting of rhumb lines is not relevant.[9]

[Figure 7]

Figure 7. Goode's homolosine equal-area projection,
with interruptions to preserve landmasses.

Goode's homolosine equal-area projection (Figure 7), considered
by many to be the best general-purpose modern projection,
preserves relative areal sizes, but it does so at the cost of
interrupting the oceans and splitting Antarctica into four pieces
(Snyder 196-98).

[Figure 8]

Figure 8. The Gall-Peters projection.

13. The acrimonious debates provoked by the popularity in the 1970s
and early '80s of the Peters orthographic equal-area projection
(Figure 8, also known as the Gall-Peters projection) suggest the
disciplinary and political stakes at play in the choice of
projections.[10] Advocates of the Peters projection claimed that
it corrected Mercator's failings as a general-purpose map by, in
effect, recentering the viewer's eye. They complained that the
Mercator projection distorts the relative sizes of the
continents, favoring the Northern hemisphere and
underrepresenting the sizes of landforms in the Southern
hemisphere. (For example, in Figure 6, North America appears
substantially larger than Africa--it is in fact only about 80% as
large; Greenland appears to be four or five times the size of
Australia, though it is about one-third its actual size.)
Peters's projection, it was claimed, represents a more realistic
and "equitable" view of the world, as it depicts the relative
areas of the major landmasses more accurately than Mercator, at
the expense of vertical distortion of familiar (that is,
Mercator-like) continental outlines. Critics of the Peters
projection found its claims of originality misleading, its goals
propagandistic, and its appearance just plain ugly (cartographer
Arthur Robinson famously compared its appearance to "wet, ragged,
long winter underwear" [Wood 60]). As Wood wryly observes,
however, no one questioned the claim of Peters's improved overall
areal accuracy in comparison to Mercator. The objections were,
essentially, that the Peters projection looks funny--but only "to
those who have been confusing the map and the globe" (210 n46).
Criticism of the projection's aesthetic qualities, Wood argues,
were little more than a smokescreen to cover the anxiety of
mapmakers and users elicited by the projection's evidence of the
political interestedness of every cartographic projection.

14. Distortion is simply a mathematical consequence of how maps do
what they do. Two-dimensional (planar) projections of a
three-dimensional (spherical or ellipsoidal) terrain, no matter
their scale or detail, must depict that terrain inaccurately, and
the inaccuracy will increase as the scope of the terrain shown
increases. This built-in error of 2D projections accounts for
their enormous number and variety, each representing a different
compromise of areal accuracy to angles, shapes, and
directions.[11] It accounts as well for the many recent efforts
to produce stereoptic or pseudo-3D maps (that is, maps that are
not planar projections, but instead purport to show the Earth in
a form more nearly corresponding to its "actual" shape), through
the use of composite satellite imagery, and interactive video and
animation techniques.[12] Most projections of large regions are
not created to serve as general-purpose maps; their distortions
are deemed acceptable because some other attribute of the
projection meets a specific need or fits a clearly-defined
context of use.

15. Identifying a map's possible misreadings, however, is not so
simple as legislating appropriate or inappropriate uses for that
projection. The inevitable inaccuracies of planar projections
have historically provided cover for unacknowledged or
unconscious motives of the advocates of a particular
projection.[13] That maps distort is a fact of mathematics and
human perception; which distortions are favored over others,
which map is selected as the "best" fit for a given context, is
determined by institutional and political forces. Thus the
objection to Mercator raised by the advocates of Gall-Peters:
Mercator was created to simplify navigation within a specific
region of the planet that corresponded to the principal foreign
territories of the European colonial powers. That the projection
also made Northern and European nations appear equal to or larger
in area than their African and Asian territories--when they were
in fact substantially smaller--was not, these critics claimed,
merely an accidental attribute of the projection's geometric
technique. The specific distortions of the map, they argued,
contributed to its lasting popularity in the West: Mercator
visually reinforced Eurocentric assumptions about the spatial,
political, and economic priority of the colonizing powers, and
helped to prop up European paradigms of nation-state boundaries
and identities that had little or no historical basis among the
indigenous peoples of the colonized regions.[14]

16. Second observation. The bounded shapes of cartographic
representation are conventional, historically-determined signs,
rather than visual analogues of real terrains. Maps are
noteworthy examples of the treachery of images. A closed,
irregular geometric form whose contours are said to approximate
those of a bounded region of space is not a priori a more
suitable sign for that region than some other shape that would
seem to resemble it less, because the vast majority of users of
the map will never encounter an object that is not defined by
this or another map, to which they might compare it.[15] This
assertion is, of course, trivial in the case of political,
ethnic, or linguistic divisions of territories otherwise unbroken
by "natural" boundaries (rivers, mountain ranges, shorelines,
etc.). But the fact that these soft boundaries often traverse the
harder formations of the geophysical terrain demonstrates that
distinctions between natural and cultural demarcations of
landspace are at best provisional. Dry land may stop at river
banks and seashores, but human definitions of city, nation, and
continent do not. "Natural" barriers dividing land regions are
fixed or erased by political strategy, technological
intervention, or military conquest, not by the innate properties
of soil and water.

17. We've learned to recognize and to internalize iconic
representations of nations and continents in much the same way
we've learned to accept the verisimilitude of other images of
things we've never actually seen: from a cultural toolkit of
forms, patterns, and strategies for making sense of them in
relation to other signs, and from frequent exposure to
stereotyped depictions that have become a part of that toolkit.
Colored mosaics hanging from schoolroom walls, bound within road
atlases, or framed by the edges of a computer monitor look like
maps because... that's what maps look like. And continents and
nations look like, well, shapes on maps. Users of maps depend on
them to discover unities and identities across space and time
that are meaningful first of all because they are mapped that
way. (This is why the Peters projection is odd-looking to those
schooled in projections that depict very different shapes of the
major landforms.) Signifying artifacts that don't much resemble
the geometries of land and water that we know from our maps, but
which are used by their authors for similar sorts of navigation
and recognizance as we use our maps, are interpretable by us as
maplike because they are founded on this steady creep of the map
from metaphor to metonymy.[16] In an important sense, Turnbull
observes (contradicting Korzybski's famous dictum), the map is
the territory in the minds of its users, because the cultural
force of specific maps and shared vocabularies of cartographic
elements and techniques overdetermines every perception of the
"real" spaces they figure (61).

Dark Continents

18. Here, in its simplest terms, is my claim regarding cartographic
representations of Internet diffusion and traffic: the blind spot
of cartography--the matrix of cartographic selectivity and
convention--is commonly bound in these images to an unrepresented
structure of established and emergent political economies that is
mistaken for the given, natural background of any discussion of
the past, present, and future of the networked realms.

[Figure 9]

Figure 9. "International Connectivity, 9/91."
© 1991 Larry Landweber and The Internet Society.

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

19. Figure 9 shows an image created by Larry Landweber, representing
the state of Internet connectivity worldwide in September, 1991.
The color scheme of the map distinguishes between four levels of
connectivity: "No connectivity," "email only," "Bitnet but no
Internet," and "Internet." The map includes no indications of the
speed or bandwidth of the connections. Though it includes
national boundaries, it gives no information regarding the
distribution or state of networks within those boundaries.

[Figure 10]

Figure 10. International Connectivity, 6/97."
© 1997 Larry Landweber and The Internet Society.

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

20. Figure 10 shows a similar map created by Landweber, showing
Internet connectivity worldwide in June, 1997. The later map
suggests that a great deal has changed in the intervening six
years. Whereas only a few countries had full Internet access in
1991, there appear to be even fewer countries without full access
in 1997.[17]

21. Figure 11 shows a map created by Mike Jensen representing the
total bandwidth linking African nations to international Internet
hubs in May, 1996. Figure 12 shows a similar map representing
bandwidth in October, 1998.[18] Once again, the differences
between the maps suggests a dramatic expansion of Internet
diffusion: a total of 64 kilobits per second (Kbs) or greater
bandwidth is now available in most African nations, whereas that
level of bandwidth was previously available in only a handful of
countries. (Keep in mind that the T1 connections common in most
of the wired world are capable of transmitting up to 1,544
Kbs--not quite enough for full-screen, full-motion video. T3
connections are capable of transmitting up to 44,736 Kbs.)

[Figure 11]

Figure 11. "International Links by Country."
Mike Jensen, May 1996.

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

[Figure 12]

Figure 12. "International Links by Country."
Mike Jensen, October 1998.

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

22. All four of these maps suffer classic problems of areal
aggregation common in choropleth maps.[19] As was the case of the
Internet maps shown in Figures 3 and 4, the use of a single
metric to identify the kinds of connectivity or levels of
bandwidth within an entire nation gives no indication of the
distribution of network resources inside the borders of that
nation. Moreover, the limited palette of the map's key encourages
misleading equivalencies between nations, obscuring dramatically
different conditions of access. (For example, the total bandwidth
of international connections for most of the nations shown in
Figure 12 is near 64 Kbs. The total bandwidth in Egypt is,
however, about 2000 Kbs; in South Africa, it is about 37,000 Kbs.
[Spangler 46].) The fundamental problem with these
representations of Internet diffusion is that they measure levels
of diffusion within a (cartographic) discourse of discrete
national-political identity which is arguably irrelevant to the
global structure of that diffusion, and which eliminates much of
the variance in material conditions upon which that structure
depends. None of these images is able to account for the extreme
local obstacles which must be overcome before anything like a
viable African Internet is possible, at least as netizens of
digitally-saturated, liberal-democratic nations understand the

23. The economic, technological, and institutional legacies of
colonial occupation are discernible in every aspect of the
African networks. Of an estimated 151 million online users
worldwide in December, 1998, fewer than 1%--somewhat less than a
million--live on the African continent.[20] Approximately 800,000
of those live in one country, South Africa. Internet node density
in Africa--the ratio of active nodes to overall
population--ranges from a low of 1 to 65 in South Africa, to a
high of 1 to 440,000 in The Democratic Republic of the Congo
(which nation includes the region of Conrad's "blankest of
blanks" [Jensen]). By way of comparison, the average Internet
density worldwide is about 1 to 40; in the U.S., it is nearly 1
to 6. Excluding South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has
fewer Internet nodes than the nation of Latvia (Jensen).

24. In October, 1998, approximately forty-nine African nations and
territories had some level of Internet access in their capital
cities. The greatest part of the available network bandwidth in
these locations is reserved for multinational firms with regional
headquarters in the cities, or for university and government
employees. Eighty percent of Africans live in rural areas.
Network nodes outside of the largest cities--and there are very,
very few of these--are punishingly slow and expensive, making
them ill-suited for anything besides FidoNet-style
store-and-forward email.[21] Local PTT and power infrastructures
are notoriously unreliable and weighed down with bloated,
inefficient state bureaucracies held over from the colonial era.
In many regions, these infrastructures are at risk of sabotage
and pillage from warfare between and within states, political
corruption, or outright thievery. Outside of the wealthiest
commercial concerns and the largest universities, much of the
computer hardware and software in sub-Saharan Africa is
antiquated, unevenly distributed, and costly to maintain and
update. Repairs usually require hard or foreign currency badly
needed for other social services. The lack of a well-developed
cadre of computer scientists and technologists (only a few
African nations offer advanced degrees in computer science and
telecommunications) and of a skilled mid-level managerial class
poses enormous barriers to efficient network implementation and
support (Odedra 26).

25. These constraints on network development reflect a more general
lack in Africa of the basic telecommunications resources upon
which digital networks in most of the wired world depend.

Africa, with over 12 percent of the world's population, has
only 2 percent of the telephone lines. By comparison, Latin
America has 8% of the population and 6% of the lines.... The
teledensity... in sub-Saharan Africa... equates to
approximately one phone line for every 200 people. By
comparison, the teledensity in the United States is 65
(equivalent to one phone line for every two people), and 45
in Europe.... There are, in fact, more telephone lines in
New York or Tokyo than in the whole of Africa.

The poor state of telecommunications infrastructure in most of
the continent prevents expansion of existing network services,
and virtually insures that large portions of Africa will remain
far behind much of the wired world with regard to digital
communication technologies, which seem to require firm
foundations in analog technologies before they are able to take

26. Some companies and political institutions looking to accelerate
network diffusion in Africa have proposed increased reliance on
"wireless" telecommunication systems, connected by Low Earth
Orbit (LEO) satellites, which would not depend on legacy systems
of fiber or copper.[24] But these networks depend no less than
wired networks on a reliable power grid; maintaining the infamous
"last mile" of wire or fiber between the downlink station and the
desktop will likely prove even more troublesome in Africa than it
has in the developed world. The underlying technologies of
wireless communications are more complex, technically fragile,
and costly to set up and administer than those of traditional
wired networks. LEO systems require many more satellites than the
Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) systems now in use for most
international voice and television traffic, and rely on extremely
sophisticated networking schemes to manage signal "handoff"
between satellites. LEO satellites have shorter life-spans than
do their GEO counterparts, adding to the costs of long-term
maintenance of these systems. The LEO networks now under
development will support paging services and voice
transmissions--comparable in quality to land-based cellular phone
systems--but only very slow data transmissions (on the order of
2.4 Kbs).[25] Implementation of LEO satellite systems capable of
handling the bandwidth required for multimedia and high-speed
data exchanges faces substantial technical and financial
obstacles; none of these systems is much beyond the drawing board
(Evans 78).[26] Moreover, the economic restructuring resulting
from increased reliance on wireless networks could prove
catastrophic for the African nations which currently depend on
the export of minerals widely used in wired infrastructures.[27]

27. These are hardly numbers to sustain fantasies of interactive
distance education, e-commerce, real-time collaboration, or even
sporadic text-only Web browsing. They suggest that utopian
visions of a world network culture that includes Africa (with a
population roughly equal to those of North America and Europe
combined) must be tempered by pragmatism concerning the
sophistication and scope of the technological, economic, and
organizational infrastructures that would be required to develop
and maintain such a culture.

28. They must be tempered as well by some critical thinking about the
nature of disparities that divide the unnetworked from the
networked spheres. Public and academic discussions of "access" in
the West tend to be dominated by language of privacy, censorship,
and freedom of speech, framed in idioms having meaning only for
netizens of wealthy liberal democracies. The two-page spread
shown in Figure 13 is from an article in a 1997 issue of WIRED,
entitled "Freedom to Connect." "Freedom" in this case means
"freedom of content" and "freedom to access any and all material
online" (106)--in other words, the freedom of the user to read,
see, and hear anything she wishes to read, see, and hear on the
Internet, without the interference or surveillance of a
government or law-enforcement agent.

[Figure 13]

Figure 13. Leila Conners, "Freedom to Connect."
WIRED 5.08 (1997): 106-7.
(Image © Michael Crumpton.
Reproduced with permission.)

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

29. "This map does not reflect the reality," notes the author, "that
this freedom is often locally restricted without formal
legislation" (106). The ambiguous phrase "restricted without
formal legislation" fronts in this context for a host of material
and political barriers to access that have no necessary relation
to the spread's narrow definition of "freedom." Indeed, it would
appear that, apart from a few liberal Western democracies
(notably excluding the U.S.), "freedom to connect" as defined by
this map is primarily a function of a government's inability to
regulate the behavior of those citizens who have Internet access,
rather than its tolerance of what they choose to do with that
access. The crudeness of the map's visual scale--distinguishing
free from unfree connections in only five steps that must
represent differences across all political-legal, economic, and
technological contexts--begs the question: how meaningful is it
to compare the "freedom to connect" in Mexico City, Paris,
Brisbane, and Algiers, and come up with the same result? One
answer is suggested by Figure 14, which shows a world map from
Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal's State of the World Atlas,
depicting international differences in state-sponsored censorship
and political and religious oppression. The Kidron and Segal map
uses fewer discrete metrics for oppression than does the WIRED
map (four, instead of five), but its assumptions regarding the
nature of "freedom" result in a very different picture of the
world. Citizens of nations who are "free to connect" to the
Internet, according to WIRED, may be unable, according to Kidron
and Segal, to connect on more human registers.

[Figure 14]

Figure 14. "The Three Monkeys."
World map showing "states' infringement of freedoms
of belief, expression, communication, and movement."
(Reproduced with permission from Michael Kidron
and Ronald Segal, The State of the World Atlas,
5th edition, Penguin, 1995.
© 1995 Myriad Editions, Limited.)

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

30. In equating "freedom to connect" with "freedom to surf," the
WIRED map confuses possible movements of data with the actual
movements of information and the free practice of thought and
belief. It thus excludes evidence of historical and political
structures that have restricted access to information
technologies, their presumed benefits, and their economic and
social costs, in the unwired world. "Some unfortunate nations,"
the legend of the map comments, "have no physical means of
connection" (106). Given the obvious bases of this misfortune in
the continuing legacies of colonial exploitation, the patronizing
character of this comment should scandalize the thoughtful
reader. Note the concentration of most of the unconnected
nations--colored dark purple in Figure 13--near the center of the
map: an unknown interior, a lack that seems to explain much... by
saying nothing at all.

The View from Above

31. What are the semiological functions of the political borders
traced on these maps of Internet infrastructure and traffic? The
borders are on the one hand heuristic conveniences: they frame
visualizations of Internet traffic within well-established
cartographic conventions, rendering abstractions of Internet
"space" and "density" easier to interpret for those who are
familiar with those conventions.

32. But cartographic schemes of representation are not necessary to
the depiction of virtual networks; the networks traverse
political borders and render problematic concepts of local,
national identity that these schemes reinforce. Borders are
anything but merely descriptive--they are, rather, among the most
coercive of instruments for naturalizing, reifying, and
depoliticizing cultural-historical formations. They are in that
regard hallmarks of the map's selective distortions of space and
time, signifiers of political hegemony which overdetermine their
depiction of roads, fences, rivers, coastlines, etc. The tracing
of political borders in these maps of putatively virtual domains
(their hegemonic effects unremarked by the authors, assumed to be
both essential to the interpretation of the maps and accidental
to their representations of the network) naturalizes specific
relations between nation-state and network identities--and, as a
result, obscures the global political forms of the Internet with
a mosaic of individual national forms. The borders thus provide a
scheme for naming only selected particulars of network diffusion,
and excluding representation of structural forces which take
effect across or outside the network: a kind of
can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees cover for larger, metanational
systems of information flow.[28]

33. Figure 15 shows a map of the Internet in July, 1998, created by
MIDS (Matrix Information Directory Services, Inc.), a research
firm specializing in print and online reports of activity on the
Internet and other telecommunications networks. Though the map's
legend is ambiguous, the overlapping colored circles appear to
mark the distribution of active Internet domains worldwide.[29]

[Figure 15]

Figure 15. MIDS. "The Internet, July 1998."

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

34. This visualization scheme avoids the misleading national
aggregations characteristic of many of the maps discussed earlier
in this essay: it's clear that domains figured on the map are
scattered unevenly within most nations. (Domains in Australia,
for example, are shown to be clustered around the country's
perimeter, near the major urban centers.) But the visibility of
some of the national borders in this image signals this map's
different encoding of access in terms of national-political
affiliation. The visual saturation of domains in the U.S. and
Western Europe obscures virtually all borders within those
regions. Political borders within Africa, on the other hand, are
easily discerned. One is given the impression of a
nearly-monolithic presence of the Internet in two or three
regions of the globe--and of equally monolithic absences most
everywhere else. National-political identity is significant, this
image suggests, exactly where the Internet is not.

35. Figure 16 shows a map of active Internet hosts per capita (that
is, within nations) as of January, 1998, created by Martin Dodge
("Geographies"). Nations with similar distributions of active
hosts are colored the same, and the most active nations are
distinguished from one another by their positions on a vertical
axis calibrated to the absolute number of hosts. Thus, only those
nations with distributions much higher or lower than those of
their neighbors are discernible as nations. Geographically
contiguous nations at the same level of distribution merge into
one another, supporting the impression of vast politically
unmarked terrains free of significant activity, and others,
politically-differentiated but also uniformly towering over the
rest of the world.

[Figure 16]

Figure 16. Martin Dodge, "Internet Hosts Per Capita,
January 1998."

[Click on image to see enlarged view]

36. Figures 15 and 16 would seem at first view to invert each other's
schemes for showing the relation of network diffusion to
national-political identity, but I would counter that they thus
share a common economy that should be by now very familiar:
on/off, traffic/no traffic/, wired/unwired. Think of Figure 16 as
a sort of topographical map. Across its peaks and valleys emerges
an archipelagic, virtual landmass that traverses the conventional
boundaries of continents and nations. Viewed from on high, the
vast, flat surface of the network's digital plains seem far
removed, alien and obscure.

Between Borders

The border is all we share / La frontera es lo unico que

-- Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Warrior for Gringostroika

37. The peaks and valleys of this virtual continent are evidence of
forces unmarked on these maps: the plate tectonics, if you will,
of a process of technological and cultural change that is nearly
invisible, unthinkable, expressly because it covers its forms
with counterfeit ubiquity and technological reasonableness.
Obscurantism of the spectacle; masquerade of the border in the
place of other, multiple and heterogenous, identities: these maps
support triumphalist fantasies of the potential (and desirable)
saturability of the Internet, expressly by excising
representation of the varied historical conditions that have
generated the binarisms on which they depend. Recasting the
fractiousness of material culture in the tidy efficiencies of the
digital sample, they hide nascent lines of force that thread
through and across those stark divides.

38. These lines of force are discernible, I propose, only by a
contrarian reading of these images which does not take their
forms for granted: a decentered regard by which the maps (and the
very logic of mapping itself) may be seen to describe, not the
light and dark continents of high colonialism but rather--though
only indirectly--an emerging, virtual "dark continent" specific
to our historical moment. This new political-symbolic structure
traverses and fragments prior political entities, even as it
makes use of fantasies of national identity to cover its
advances.[30] In a deeply ironic way, the networked instauration
of the dark continent reverses the extractive logic of classic
colonialism: instead of raw materials (ore, precious stones,
humans) freighted out of the heart of darkness for consumption by
the wired-colonial metropole, the information order, to the
extent that it penetrates the unwired world, will be largely
devoted to freighting information in its motley forms into the
benighted realms. In this context, "information" has the sense of
both a commodity--a thing for sale over the networks--and a
coercive force: the networks are able to inform the unwired
realms; the new dark continent reproduces itself over the wires
without regard for the prior conventional definitions of nation,
region, or continent.[31]

39. What does this emergent telegeographic entity look like? How
might we figure its contours? The problem with those questions is
that the new digital information order doesn't look like much of
anything, at least not anything that may be named by the
metageographical idioms on which the most common representations
of the global networks rely. It may be possible to produce images
of the virtual terrains that adapt techniques of scientific
visualization to those of classical cartography, while unbinding
the former from its most positivist and politically naive biases,
and the latter from its reliance on outdated and pernicious
representations of the lived places of the human world. But
that's not what the idioms of the dominant cartographic
conventions do; they instead tend to unname, to render
unremarkable (literally unseeable) the political economy shaping
the new information orders.

40. As I've suggested throughout this essay, the selective
distortions of the map, though mathematically and culturally
irreducible, render it a problematic construct for describing the
heterogenous conditions and practices of the emerging global
telecommunications networks. Maps must mislead if they are to be
usable; that much is clear. What matters most in any appeal to a
tropology of maps and mapping is whether or not we understand the
uses that may be concealed in our reception of maps as a
privileged way of figuring human spaces, be they material or
virtual.[32] A provisional strategy for fostering consciousness
of the prejudices of the map might be simply to multiply in a
disorderly way the instances of Internet mapping practice: to
read maps of the wired and unwired domains against
representations that interpret human spaces in terms for which
wiring may be irrelevant, or which eschew conventional
cartographic signs in favor of formations which entirely detach
the network from its national-political borders. (The metaphor of
the "dark continent" I've proposed here should be conceived as
operative only within contested and multiple contexts such as

41. A more salient question with regard to these and similar images
may be, why should it matter? So what if the maps are inaccurate?
Calling for more "accurate" visualizations of Internet
diffusion--for example, challenging fantasies about the
uniformity of the diffusion and growth of telecommunications
access (MOSAIC)--may not in the end be different from calling for
new maps, without questioning the method of the map: that is,
attempting to increase the sample size, criss-crossing the blanks
with additional lines of force, finding a more efficient scheme
for measuring shades of light and dark. We should be cautious of
strategies that seek to repair a lack of data with more, "better"
data, while still relying on the epistemological and visual
figure of the border-as-national-boundary. As the map has been a
primary tool for commodifying physical space, it may serve
equally well as a tool for commodifying information; replacing a
Mercator with a Gall-Peters does not eliminate the epistemic
coercion of the map.[34]

42. On the other hand, misrepresentations of conditions of access and
identity in the wired and unwired realms do certainly matter in
one sense: the imaginary orders they produce and sustain are
likely to return to the real as consequences of economic policy,
military intervention, and technological and symbolic exclusion.
Those who will plan the network infrastructures of the next
century are likely, however we may characterize their conscious
motives, to rely on maps of one sort of another. Sustained,
progressive critique of the metageographies of Internet diffusion
and traffic must look beyond the limited (and limiting) visual
vocabularies of national-political identity, and base its
investigations on new schemes for representing the archipelagic
landscapes of the emerging political and technological world

43. If we analyze techniques for figuring the formations of the
Internet with an awareness of the historical and ideological
constitution and effects of those techniques--if we look for
traces of the excluded matter they cannot show--we will perhaps
be better able to make sense of a studied neglect of fractious
material realities characteristic of the predictions of both the
cyberspace utopians dreaming of "one world, one network," and the
economic opportunists looking for new unknown interiors ripe for
exploitation. This will require a careful and comprehensive
examination of the emerging class and semiological domains of the
post-colonialist world (Alkalimat 278-85), and a better
understanding than we now have of the broad reach of networks of
all kinds, and of the changes they are effecting in regional and
global systems of cultural and economic exchange.[35] The
accelerating development and expansion of the virtual
archipelagoes call for this kind of work, because the new
structures of information and movements of virtualized capital
will be among the most powerful forces redefining human
geographies and semiological systems of the next century.
Established definitions of national and economic identity and
relation are being recast by the heterogenous and often
contradictory material and political facts of the cyber-ecumene,
where bands of light and dark, access and no access, are knotted
in unprecedented ways within the "same" city, nation, or
continent.[36] In the networked era, the heart of darkness is an
interstitial formation--which is to say, its borders are drawn
around and between us. The maps we now have obscure this emerging

School of Literature, Communication & Culture
Georgia Institute of Technology






An early version of this essay was presented at the 1998
Conference on Science, Technology, and Race (STAR '98), Georgia
Institute of Technology, April 2, 1998. I thank Deepika
Petraglia-Bahri, Jeanne Ewert, and Kavita Philip for their
invaluable comments on the manuscript of this version. I thank
also Mark Monmonier for his kind assistance in creating the maps
shown in Figures 6, 7, and 8.

1. GoGwilt's subtle and evocative reading of the "double-mapping"
of Europe and the African colonies in Conrad's work links the
political and epistemological functions of maps in the late
nineteenth century with Conrad's equivocal reconstructions of his
Polish childhood.

2 See Wood (32-47), Turnbull (28-36), and Sack (ch. 1).

3. A synonym for "blankness" in this discourse is "darkness." The
late nineteenth-century journalist-explorer Henry M. Stanley
popularized the description of Africa as "The Dark Continent" in
several best-selling memoirs of his journeys in Equatorial
Africa. In Stanley's books, "darkness" is an unfortunate state
opposed to the light of Reason: Africa's spiritually and
politically benighted interior is badly in need of European
science, religion, and civilization--in short, of the
stabilizing, epistemological ordering that only a finished map
can signify.

4. These and similar images are included in Martin Dodge's "An
Atlas of Cyberspaces" (http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/).
Dodge categorizes the visualizations on this site into twelve
different categories: Conceptual, Geographic, Traceroutes,
Census, Topology, Info Maps, Info Landscapes, Info Spaces, ISP
Maps, Web Site Maps, Historical, and 3D Gallery.

5. "Although the geographic map is drawn on a 2D plane, it can be
arbitrarily positioned and oriented in the space. Therefore the
user can interactively navigate the display by translating,
rotating, scaling, and visualizing the network from different
perspectives under different rendering conditions" (Cox, Eick,
and He 52).

6. This repetition of the structural functions of the blanks of
high colonial maps is evident in a series of Internet maps
created by Batty and Barr for their 1994 article on "The
Electronic Frontier" (707-708). The six maps in the series
illustrate the growth of the Internet between July, 1991 and
January, 1994, in the form of a global grid on which countries
with active nodes are shown in outline form, and those without
active nodes are invisible. Over the course of the series, small
landmasses (more properly, political masses) seem to appear over
time out of a cartographic void. Much of the lived human world
remains unseen--literally not present--in the topography of the
wired world. The maps are reprinted in Kitchin (40-41).

7. Turnbull also uses this illustration of the Bellman's chart in
the introduction to his discussion of the conventionality of maps

8. See Monmonier (ch. 3) for a discussion of "generalization"
techniques to improve map legibility and Monmonier (chs. 7-8) for
a survey of classic cartographic distortions in the service of
political and military ends. Wood (ch. 5) critiques these
techniques more aggressively than Monmonier, emphasizing their
support of ideological ends.

9. See Monmonier (ch. 1), Snyder, and Wood, for typical critiques
of the modern misapplications of this projection.

10. Arno Peters created his 1967 projection apparently unaware
that similar techniques had been used by James Gall to produce a
nearly-identical map more than 80 years previously. See Monmonier
(11-19) and Snyder (165-66). The Gall-Peters projection was
adopted by UNESCO, the World Council of Churches, and several
other international organizations, expressly because of the
claims of political equity made for it. For detailed discussions
of the debates concerning the Peters projection, see Wood (ch. 3)
and Monmonier (ch. 1).

11. Snyder lists more than 150 projections and variants developed
in the 20th century alone (277-86). See Misra and Ramesh (93-152)
for an overview of the mathematical limitations of planar
projections, including discussion of the Mercator, Goode
Homolosine, and Gall-Peters projections.

12. The advantages of animated 3D projections over 2D schemes are
promoted in one influential paper on geographical mapping of
traffic through a single WWW server: "by providing true
three-dimensional views, stereopsis and virtual reality allow us
to avoid the distortion problems that have plagued cartographers
and planar projections" (Lamm, Reed, and Scullin). Most
projections of this kind are properly 2.5D views, as they must be
displayed on two-dimensional fields (computer screens), with the
illusion of depth suggested by movement or shading, as in the
Cox, Eick, and He "arc maps."

13. Wood is a good example of this line of argument.

14. The projective "corrections" of Gall-Peters did not, of
course, eliminate its dependence on conventions closely tied to
European and Northern hegemonies, a point that Turnbull
demonstrates by recentering the projection on the Pacific, and
turning it upside-down (with the Southern pole at the top of the
map). See Turnbull (7).

15. What does the state of Georgia look like? The nation of
France? The continent of Africa? These questions depend
on--indeed, are meaningless outside of--a cartocentric worldview
that confuses being, visibility, and mappability.

16. Turnbull (ch. 5) includes a discussion of Aboriginal
Australian dhulanj ("the footprints of the Ancestors"),
depictions of clan territories in the form of elaborate animal
shapes and geometric patterns. Though the patterns of the dhulanj
look nothing like the contours of Western cartographic
projections, these "maps" of the Aboriginal homelands are,
Turnbull demonstrates, no less specific nor less accurate for
their intended uses.

17. Attentive readers will notice that the level and distribution
of Internet access depicted in Figures 9 and following are not
consistent. Reliable information regarding Internet use, even in
countries with relatively long histories of use, is notoriously
hard to come by. Moreover, the authors of these maps appear to
have drawn their information from different sources. Nonetheless,
I would argue, the maps are consistent in two regards: 1) their
demonstration of broad trends of changes in Internet access and
use, and 2) a tendency of these and similar visualizations to
obscure the particularities of access and use.

18. These images are included in an animated .gif created by
Jensen, showing the change in link distribution and bandwidth
between 1996 and 1998. See

19. A choropleth map uses graduated tones and discrete areal
units to depict variations in some condition over a geographical
area. Changes in the selection of breaks between categories of a
choropleth map can result in dramatically different
interpretations of the same data. For example, the total
international bandwidth available in South Africa is so much
larger than that of any other African nation that it arguably
deserves its own measure on Jensen's maps. If that were the case,
Figures 11 and 12 would tell a different story about recent
changes in African Internet diffusion: South Africa continues to
be the exception to nearly every general rule of the African
Internet, for historical and economic reasons which are easily
guessed. For a discussion of the ways in which areal aggregation
may influence interpretation of choropleth maps, see Monmonier
(ch. 10).

20. See Nua Internet Surveys
(http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/index.html). Other
estimates of active Internet users worldwide vary somewhat from
this figure. 150 million, plus or minus 10%, appears to be a
reasonable estimate. See also "Headcount.com"
(http://www.headcount.com/), and Staple (79).

21. In some countries, a 9.6 Kbps international leased line can
cost the equivalent of US$130,000 annually; dialup access charges
often exceed US$10.00 hourly (Spangler 46). (Average annual
income in all but a handful of African nations is less than $2000
annually, with the majority of nations averaging at less than
$1000 annually [Kidron 36-37].) It is difficult to ascertain the
numbers of persons that make regular use of the African networks.
This is especially true of modem-based, store-and-forward email
systems, which do not use the same network structure as true
Internet systems. In the developed world, it is not uncommon for
a single Internet node to serve dozens of users. An informal
review of one online list of Sub-Saharan networks ("AAAS User's
Guide to Electronic Networks in Africa"
suggests that the number of users supported by African networks
varies widely. In the most networked African nations (South
Africa, for example), use of computers probably resembles the
multiple-user model common in more developed countries. In many
nations, however, the total number of users for a network may run
no higher than single digits.

22. In this regard, most of the world is more like Africa than
the U.S., Western Europe, or Japan. Average teledensity worldwide
is roughly 10 lines per 100 inhabitants. About 80% of the current
world population has never used a telephone (Goldstein 339,

23. The myth of network culture's essential virtuality tends to
obscure the dependance of digital networks on other, more
material--one might say, mundane--networks. Arnum and Conti have
identified a close historical correlation between the deployment
of non-Internet wire (telephony, television, electrical grids),
paved roads and railways, and gross national product. The
wealthiest, most widely-paved or -railed, and most heavily-wired
nations are in general, those in which diffusion and use of the
Internet has been greatest, and is growing at the greatest rate.
See also Hargittai's conclusion that the unwired nations are
unlikely to ever catch up with their wired counterparts in the
distribution of digital technologies.

24. "LEO satellites can provide relatively inexpensive
communications between simple earth receivers and satellites from
any where in the world (even Africa!). Africa may actually be at
an advantage in implementing these new technologies as it does
not have an extensive investment in existing infrastructure"
(Butterly). Such a system is an important component of the "USAID
Leland Initiative: African GII Gateway Project"

25. The first of these, Motorola's Iridium
(http://www.iridium.com/), will go online near the end of 1998. A
recent cover story about Iridium in WIRED magazine breathlessly
endorsed the idea that the service will "leap geopolitical
barriers in a single bound" ("Anyware! Iridium launches the
global phone") (Bennahum 134) with an image that combined
metageographic tropes with erotically-valenced clichés of the
cyber-denizen. The cover showed the naked scalp, nape, and back
of a young woman of uncertain ethnicity. Projected on her skin: a
brightly-colored map of Russia, Asia, and the Indian Ocean,
presumably important markets which will be newly opened to
subscribers to the service. Iridium will face steep competition
from expanding cellular phone networks, and is expected to have
no more than 11 million subscribers by 2007

26. Though he is cautious with regard to the technical scale and
cost of large, satellite-based systems, Goldstein is sanguine
about the potential of these systems to accelerate the growth of
telecommunication infrastructure in the unwired world.

Of course, we cannot expect that most developing countries
will reach teledensity levels that rival those of developed
countries in just 10 years. Nevertheless, millions of
individuals and businesses in heretofore unconnected or
underconnected towns and villages will gain at least some
access to essential national and even international
narrowband voice, data, and Internet services--leapfrogging
the traditional wait for wired services. This will be one of
the most significant developments in communications over the
next decade, although the true impact of these new entrants
into the electronic marketplace may only begin to be felt by
2008. (340)

Goldstein is more careful than many evangelists of the wireless
realms to unpack the multiple technical, economic, and political
obstacles to the development of these systems. But the devil is
in the details: the capabilities of "narrowband" versus those of
"broadband" services; the practical sense of "at least some"
level of access, etc.

27. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia depend on
copper exports for over 50% and 95% of export earnings,
respectively (Alkalimat 279).

28. My reading of the signification of political borders in these
images is in a sense the reverse of Edward Tufte's complaint
against a series of thematic maps illustrating cancer deaths by
U.S. county: "They wrongly equate the visual importance of each
geographic area rather than with the number of people living in
the county (or the number of cancer deaths.) Our visual
impression of the data is entangled with the circumstances of
geographic boundaries, shapes, and areas" (20). Yes and no.
"Geographic boundaries" are social and political structures
applied to and enforced over physical terrains. Events that occur
within them may be impossible to disentangle from those
structures. The lines only get in the way--obscure the "real"
purpose of the image--if one assumes that the things represented
by the data (cancer deaths, Internet access) may be abstracted
away from all political interests.

29. MIDS produces a similar animated map, projecting daily
Internet traffic latency and congestion on a spinning globe. The
globe can be viewed online, at

30. The inverted form of that fantasy is the McLuhaneque "global
village," spanning prior national borders via the wonders of new
communication technologies. McLuhan's mediascape is, of course,
no less selective in its misrepresentations of conditions at the
local level of communication practice than the misleading areal
aggregations in the images I've discussed in this essay. (For a
brief but decisive critique of McLuhan in this regard, see Jarvis
[24-29].) The "global village" is, perhaps, another name for the
structure I'm calling the new "dark continent."

31. Shadowing the voids in virtual space is another kind of
absence: the lack of any articulated alternative to the
boosterism for privatization and free market forces as the only
and the inevitable fix for the backwardness and decrepitude of
the telegeography of the developing world. In the language of the
cyberlibertarians, this enthusiasm for technological "progress"
is recast in the uplifting terms of information emancipation and
an ethos of unrestrained individualism. Given the apparently--the
unimaginably--unstoppable expansion of network culture at this
moment in history, the private and the personal seem perilously
close to losing any vital particularity they may have once had,
and to being obscured by the penumbra of larger, unthinkable
political formations that are quite able to maintain for
themselves a different sort of invisibility.

32. This caveat will apply whether the discourse of mapping is
conceived of in terms sustaining or critiquing established
political economies. Brian Jarvis's recent Postmodern
Cartographies brilliantly demonstrates that selective
abstractions of economic materiality via the trope of the map are
common in the writings of many critics on the Left.

33. In a simple way, my comparison of the "freedoms" figured in
Figures 13 and 14 is an example of this. Kidron and Segal's atlas
is an excellent model of multiple mapping: it includes fifty
maps, cartograms, and charts depicting political, economic, and
social indicators. Taken as a whole, the atlas figures profoundly
heterogenous and, at times contradictory, assertions about the
conditions of life for most of the planet. Examples of
visualizations of the Internet and other networked formations
that do not rely on the cartographic conventions informing most
of the images in this essay may be found at Dodge's "Atlas of
Cyberspaces" site (http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/). See
also a new project to map thematically-related sites on the WWW,
based at the Guggenheim Museum,
http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/ (Ippolito 17).

34. Nor does the preference for more "accurate" mapping address
the deeply intertwined and mutually-constitutive roles of modern
mapping techniques, scientific positivism, visual subjectivity,
and market economies. See Avery for a brief but evocative foray
into the relation of maps to capital, colonial exploitation, and
modern conceptions of the subject.

35. The Internet is only one form of the accelerating spread of
networked formations of power and representation at the close of
the 20th century. A comprehensive account of the emerging
networked realms--ignoring for the sake of clarity the many
questions that the word "comprehensive" raises in that
description--would need to take into account the massive and
heterogenous material networks that support the diffusion of
formations like the Internet as their "infrastructure," including
such systems as copper and fiber wiring for both information and
power, microwave and satellite communication systems, cellular
phone and beeper systems, the manufacturing and distribution
systems tied to these systems, etc. In his recent typology of
virtual geographies, Michael Batty identifies a realm he calls
"cyberplace" that roughly corresponds to this broader sort of

[Cyberplace is...] the substitution, complementation, and
elaboration of physical infrastructures based on manual and
analogue technologies by digital... [It] consists of all the
wires that comprise the networks that are being embedded
into man-made [sic] structures such as roads, and buildings.
It extends to the material objects that are used to support
this infrastructure such as machines for production,
consumption and movement that are now quickly becoming a mix
of the digital and the analogue. (346)

Batty's distinction between "cyberplace" (the material realm
reshaped by the demands of the digital) and "cyberspace" (the
virtual realm that is being created to represent the digital for
its users) unironically reverses Michel de Certeau's distinction
between place and space. For de Certeau, place is the static,
rationalized--the mapped--form of space, which is multiple,
heterogenous, and contingent (117). Approached with de Certeau's
distinction in mind, Batty's "cyberplace" takes on the appearance
of a vectorized, rationalized material order whose possibilities
are determined by the reductive binarisms of the digital order.

36. The cyberspatial blank that divides my office at Georgia Tech
from crumbling, technologically-antiquated public schoolrooms
within city of Atlanta--one of the most networked cites in the
U.S.--is, in practical terms, as yawning and irreducible as the
blank separating my office from classrooms in many cities in the
developing world. See Moss and Townsend; McConnaughey, Nila, and
Sloan; and McConnaughey and Lader. McConnaughey and Lader's
research suggests that the "digital divide" in the U.S. (most
often drawn along racial, economic, and regional lines), between
Internet-connected and -unconnected households, is in fact

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