Maps That Might Make You Rethink How You See the World

The Mercator Map Has Distorted Our Reality for Centuries.

The map below shows how we are used to looking at and thinking about the world. Look familiar?

This is called the Mercator Projection, named after the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator, who developed it in 1569 and inadvertently distorted our world view for the next 446 years. Although we’ve begun to dispel the misconceptions some notable distortions remain, as the good folks on The West Wing explained in their “Cartographers for Social Equality” episode. The Mercator Projection, which many still believe to be accurate, skews the relative size of land masses close to the poles to accommodate the longitude and latitude grid.

But who cares? It turns out, size matters–and so does placement. This is why Greenland looks so damned important on the Mercator Projection and why the US is so often smack in the center—our sense of worth is so aggrandized that we often split Asia in half to place ourselves front and center.

“The Greenland Effect” is only one of many issues with the Mercator Projection. For example, even though Greenland and Africa appear to be roughly the same size on this map, Africa is 14 times larger. The continent’s true size encompasses not only Greenland but China, the United States, India, and Western Europe put together, as The Economist’s graphic shows:

The Economist

If you would like a more accurate representation of the world and the relative sizes of countries and continents, look at the Gall-Peters map where areas of equal size on the globe are equally sized.

And if you really want to see how Northerners have conveniently skewed the world to suit their ends, try turning the map upside down.


This is perfectly legitimate—we’re a big spinning ball in space, and North and South are really just reference points. Or are they? Think what the world might be and look like if the aboriginal people of Australia or the Incas had beaten us to mapping it.

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