The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Note to Santa Claus: A Digital Globe, Please

The last time a 3-D, digital, touch-controlled globe was being used, Admiral Akbar was briefing the Rebel Alliance on the impending Battle of Endor. Those of us on Earth, however, were still using flat paper maps or hollow plastic orbs.

How times have changed. The NY Times reports that widespread use of digital globes is on the horizon, and the possibilities seem endless:

Controlled by a keyboard or tablet computer, a digital globe can toggle between familiar, static images, like the world’s political boundaries, topography or vegetation. It can animate complex phenomena, like the formation of weather systems, the effect of global warming on wolverine habitats or the annual pulse of sea ice. It can display the surface of the moon, the churning azure cloudscapes of Neptune or the celestial globe — the night sky.

A digital globe can illuminate the human planet: wars, colonization, the formation of diaspora, modern trade flows or air traffic. It can also help teach math, play games, show movies or serve as a blank canvas for one’s inner, spherical artist.

Some kinks still need to be worked out, like how to keep the South Pole from being blocked by the projector, and how to get one for less than $21,000. But the technology is improving, and prices are falling; Global Imagination, makers of the 24-inch Magic Planet model, is shooting for an education-discounted price of $2,500 within the next couple of years.

Already popular in Chinese classrooms and in select American ones, these digital globes could be as valuable for teaching earth sciences, astronomy, history, and religion as for allowing companies to track resource distribution and analyze global market demands.

Aspiring CEOs, astronomers, climatologists, military strategists, development experts, traders, and historians, take note: technology is making the many hours spent in a classroom or office more exciting than they used to be.

Future gift-givers, also take note: this is what Via Meadia wants for Christmas next year.

Published on January 9, 2013 7:00 pm