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Vanishing Point
Jamais Cascio, 15 Aug 05

vanishing_point.jpgIf your primary view of the world is through the major press outlets, how much of the world do you really see? That's the question underlying the Vanishing Point project, put together by Mauricio Arango, supported by the Low Fi net art group. Vanishing Point takes the last 50 days of stories from the top newspapers of the G7 countries, parses them for references to countries around the world, then displays how "visible" each country is on a map. Vanishing Point requires Flash 7 to view.

It's not unexpected that the G7 countries end up highly visible -- although it's interesting (and a bit telling) that Canada is much less visible than the rest. China, Iraq and Israel/Palestine are also very visible, with India, Iran, Russia and Egypt next in line. From this, it appears that economic weight and civil conflict are the two most reliable ways to get the world's attention. This is hardly surprising, of course, but Vanishing Point drives the point home in a visually arresting way. More surprising is just how little coverage there is of so much of the world. And it's not just developing nations that seem to drop below the radar -- European nations such as Portugal, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries are just as "invisible" as Guatemala, Kazakhstan and nearly all of Central Africa.

Clicking on a country -- including the invisible countries, which show up in blue when moused-over -- brings up a chart showing the number of news stories about the country from each of the last 50 days. Click a day, and a list of the individual stories from the selected newspapers is retrieved. Although the list doesn't provide a direct link to the stories, it does give each a one-sentence summary of the coverage.

Vanishing Point underscores just how little of the world is covered by the major press outlets, and leaves one wondering what stories fell through the cracks with so much of the world effectively invisible. I do wonder how much of the emphasis on the G7 countries comes from self-reporting (e.g., one would expect that the coverage in Le Monde to talk primarily about France), and how the visibility would change if such internal references were removed. I also wonder how the map would differ if the newspapers chosen for the links came instead from the non-G7 nations. Are the leading newspapers from Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Nigeria, etc., giving the same level of coverage to China, Iraq and Israel/Palestine in their international coverage? Would the US, France, UK and the rest of the G7 still be so visible?

I would love to see a version of this that allowed a toggle between what the G7 "sees" and what the citizens of non-G7 countries "see" of the world.

(Alex reminds me that our own Ethan Zuckerman has put together something similar, Global Attention Profiles, using color to show the attention given to different countries by the BBC. It's interesting to compare and contrast what the BBC is watching versus what the collective G7 newspapers are paying attention to.

Also note this December 2003 post on "Global News," examining a variety of ways of gathering news from outside the US.)

(Via Information Aesthetics)

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Thats because most people on the earth are realy realy boring.

Posted by: wintermane on 15 Aug 05

Nobody cares about us in Canada. I suppose that's not a bad thing...

Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 15 Aug 05

Surely this map should be weighted by population. After all, the population of Switzerland is a lot less than the population of the US, so it makes sense it gets less attention. I suspect this would account for the underrepresentation of Canada, as well.

Posted by: Dylan on 17 Aug 05



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