I can’t really remember when I got my first desktop map of the world. I know that Germany was already unified, but I’m not sure if Yugoslavia still existed – both on my desk and on Earth. Knowing that I only started doing my homework at home from 5th grade, I should place the beginning of my explorations of countries, oceans, seas, cities and rivers in the fall of 1989.
By desktop map, I mean one of those laminated maps that serve as protectors for real desks – not an image on a computer screen (my parents only agreed to buy us a PC years later). Back then, homework was done on paper with pens and pencils – plus the occasional ruler, x-acto knife, colored marker or stick of glue – the materials I used on it, which gradually led to its disfigurement. I eventually replaced it with a new one just before going to college.
Whenever I got bored with doing homework or studying or something else, I would put everything aside and just stare at the map. My eyes would travel from North to South, Iberia to the South China Sea, Lake Baikal or the territories of Antarctica. I would stop at names of places like Antananarivo, Odessa, Monterrey, Thessaloniki or Ulan Batar, all set in Frutiger (I think) next to black dots. Capitals had a thin circumference around that dot, and their names were also set in different type sizes according to their respective population. I was particularly drawn to cities, not so much countries (which were set in capital letters on a lighter version of the typeface). Little did I know I would later come up with the guidelines for a world map when living in the distant country of Malaysia.
I blame my geographical geekiness on this map: because of it, I always pick the geography category when playing Trivial Pursuit, I know the names of capitals and main cities of most of the world’s nations and I organize my web bookmarks geographically. But more than that, this map has fuelled, for almost 20 years, my incurable wanderlust. My first (pre-map era) memories of travelling abroad are the epic daytrips with my parents and grandparents to the Spanish border town of Badajoz.
Since then, I’ve never been content with staying put, and have added many air, train, ship, car and walking miles to my life. Those trips always started with, or included, me looking into the map for at least a few minutes.
I’m naturally obsessed with almost all kinds of maps, such as my very beat-up Interrail maps (where I marked my itineraries around Europe in the moving trains), or the airline route maps of in-flight magazines I always, always spend a few minutes on whenever I’m on a plane. Maps to me are not just intriguing pieces of information and intricate exercises in graphic design, they’re very intimate escape mechanisms. I like to think of them – starting with my own desktop map – as platforms for daydreaming.
This short text was written for Akiko Busch‘s “Reading Design” course. For this assignment, titled “Evocative Objects”, we were be assigned (in groups) to read the introduction and sections from the book “Evocative Objects: Things We Think With”, by Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT. We were then asked to present the chapter they read and write a short essay (400–500 words) about such an object in a corresponding category in their own lives.
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