To Parag Khanna, maps aren’t static outlines of the world’s regions. Instead, maps tell stories: of how we got to this point in human history; of our social, economic, political and infrastructural developments; and perhaps most of all, of our potential as an increasingly integrated world.
Maps have arguably always been about connectivity. Khanna, however, takes this to a whole new level in his book Connectography: Mapping The Future Of Global Civilization (Random House, 2016).
The well-researched, detailed and beautifully-illustrated maps within the book’s pages capture a whole range of current issues, from regional cooperation and global warming to migration and emerging superpowers. They posit that the world is a lot more connected by pipelines, railways, shipping routes and Internet cables than national borders may suggest. As urban centres continue to expand, he says, about 40 or so megacities may shape the world more than our current 200 nations.
Khanna, a global strategist born in India, then raised in Dubai, Germany and New York, now calls Singapore his home. So he knows better than most the importance of connectivity in today’s world.
During a recent interview, he says his aim with Connectography was to couple his forecasts and scenarios about a connected world with solid data.
“When I talk about connectivity aspirationally, it’s always coupled with data. The point of this book is to quantify it and make it concrete, in a world where we think of connectivity as something intangible – to physically map it and ground it in data.”
To do this, Khanna worked with some of the best cartographic digital mapmakers in the world.
“There was no question that this book was going to have maps. The question was, were they going to be superlative maps that had never been conceived before? Getting the maps done was an equal effort to writing the book, it was monumentally expensive, and it was worth every minute and penny.”
Connectography rounds off Khanna’s trilogy on the future world order, which began with The Second World: Empires And Influence In The New Global Order (2008), followed by How To Run The World: Charting A Course To The Next Renaissance (2011).
He brings to the books years of experience, having worked with bodies such as the US National Intelligence Council, US Special Operations Forces, and the World Economic Forum. His writing regularly appears in international publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Forbes, The Guardian and The Atlantic.
Since its release last year, Connectography has been been garnering a lot of attention for the ways in which it reimagines our world’s maps, sometimes in ways that seem obvious once Khanna and his cartographers present them to you, and at other times quite radically.
“I wanted to map functional geography. Not natural geography, not political geography. As soon as you embrace that, you realise there’s this gigantic black hole in the cartographic mind,” says Khanna.
One map in the book based on economic geography, for instance, depicts how the world’s population and economic activities are centred around what he terms “megacities”.
“It struck me, if an alien came from outer space to silently observe us and wrote a report, what would he say? I realised he would say, there are eight billion human beings, two-thirds of them live in cities in big built up areas, and most of these cities are right along the ocean coasts. He wouldn’t know about countries or sovereignities, he couldn’t see it!
“That’s what we are. We’re not distinct tribes, we’re not destined to live in these different nations. We’re urban coastal civilisations; 60,000 years of human history, and it’s exactly two things: we live in cities and we have infrastructure that connects cities,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Pax Aseana map shows a South-East Asia evolving toward increased integration through connectivity.
“The South-East Asian region is evolving and coming together in ways that weren’t imaginable two or three generations ago. I tried to map the enormous potential I see in it, with the North-South and East-West Economic Corridors, the Asean Connectivity master plan, and the Asean free trade area,” says Khanna.
Another map looks at what the world would be like if global temperatures rose by 4°C. Based on existing models, it suggests effects like the Amazon forest becoming a desert, Himalayan glaciers disappearing, and much of China and India being abandoned. Mean-while, Russia and Canada will become the only food-producing regions of the world, and could potentially be housing billions of climate refugees.
In a map he calls “The United City-States Of America”, Khanna presents a United States connected by high-speed rail lines – a proposal during the Obama presidency that has yet to come to fruition. Making this happen, Khanna says, will move America away from its increasingly ineffective states-based system to one structured around connectivity and urban clusters. It is a model that much of Western Europe and Asia has already put in place, and Khanna says it is high time for the US to catch up.
“We are seeing an accelerated diminution of American influence. Two wars, bad or unproductive governments, and the rise of powers around the world that want their own say: if you take all these together, and you look at the maps, you see the rest of the world moving on. That’s not an argument, it’s a reality.”
Connectography’s maps have taken on a life beyond the book, with many secondary schools in the United States and Britain using them to teach. The Connectivity Atlas at atlas.developmentseed.org houses many of the maps and visualisations from the book, and Khanna is working with his collaborators on interactive online versions of his maps that will reflect real-life changes and updates.
He is further planning a multimedia television documentary inspired by the book, which will feature him and his eight-year-old daughter travelling from Scotland to Singapore by train – a literal story of global connectivity.
“My point throughout the book is, connect the disconnected. A map is also a roadmap. And the journey will be less difficult if we have a roadmap.”