As much as I love maps, they occasionally frustrate me. By their very nature –- distorting a spherical earth to appear on a two-dimensional surface -– maps can represent the world inaccurately and lead to misunderstandings. Consider the Greenland problem in the Mercator projection. When something looks larger or smaller, we easily jump to conclusions about its importance.
But why not use distortion as a teaching tool? Distorting the world in the right ways can give us new insights, and that’s exactly what the Our Changing World map from FedEx does. Choose a topic and watch the size of each country morph to reflect the data. Certain parts of the world will expand or shrink depending on the value of their exports or their number of computer users, for example. Clicking below the map will bring up more detail about how the topic is changing the world. You can even compare two maps side-by-side (click “explore” in the upper right).
You may be skeptical about a resource produced by a corporation, but this map is truly more informational than commercial. There are no advertisements other than a small FedEx logo and occasional mention of the company’s name in the explanations.
This map is a fantastic way to show data visually, but it also makes a great jumping-off point to discuss maps’ power to represent information and influence our perceptions. Students could even research a topic and create their own distorted maps, though it’s probably best for them to focus on one region of the world.