The Rashomon Effect: The Phenomenon, Named After Akira Kurosawa’s Classic Film, Where Each of Us Remembers the Same Event Differently




Toward the end of The Simpsons’ golden age, one episode sent the titular family off to Japan, not without resistance from its famously lazy patriarch. “Come on, Homer,” Marge insists, “Japan will be fun! You liked Rashomon.” To which Homer naturally replies, “That’s not how I remember it!” This joke must have written itself, not as a high-middlebrow cultural reference (as, say, Frasier would later name-check Tampopo) but as a play on a universally understood byword for the nature of human memory. Even those of us who’ve never seen Rashomon, the period crime drama that made its director Akira Kurosawa a household name in the West, know what its title represents: the tendency of each human being to remember the same event in his own way.

“A samurai is found dead in a quiet bamboo grove,” says the narrator of the animated TED-Ed lesson above. “One by one, the crime’s only known witnesses recount their version of the events that transpired. But as they each tell their tale, it becomes clear that every testimony is plausible, yet different, and each witness implicates themselves.”




So goes “In a Grove,” a story by celebrated early 20th-century writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. An avid reader, Kurosawa combined that literary work with another of Akutagawa’s to create the script for Rashomon. Both Akutagawa and Kurosawa “use the tools of their media to give each character’s testimony equal weight, transforming each witness into an unreliable narrator.” Neither reader nor viewer can trust anyone — nor, ultimately, can they arrive at a defensible conclusion as to the identity of the killer.

Such conflicts of memory and perception occur everywhere in human affairs: this TED-Ed lesson finds examples in biology, anthropology, politics, and media. Sufficiently many psychological phenomena converge to give rise to the Rashomon effect that it seems almost overdetermined; it may be more illuminating to ask under what conditions doesn’t it occur. But it also makes us ask even tougher questions: “What is truth, anyway? Are there situations when an objective truth doesn’t exist? What can different versions of the same event tell us about the time, place, and people involved? And how can we make group decisions if we’re all working with different information, backgrounds, and biases?” We seem to be no closer to definitive answers than we were when Rashomon came out more than 70 years ago — only one of the reasons the film holds up so well still today.

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How to Improve Your Memory: Four TED Talks Explain the Techniques to Remember Anything

How Did Akira Kurosawa Make Such Powerful & Enduring Films? A Wealth of Video Essays Break Down His Cinematic Genius

What Is Déjà Vu? Michio Kaku Wonders If It’s Triggered by Parallel Universes

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Performs The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”




Over the years, we’ve featured The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing covers of various rock classics–from the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and Bowie’s “Heroes,” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Recorded in London back in 2005, this clip features the Orchestra performing The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go.’  The performance is an outtake from the DVD, Anarchy in the Ukulele, which is available in digital format. Enjoy.

via Laughing Squid

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Hear The Velvet Underground’s “Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes,” Which Showcases the Brilliance & Innovation of Lou Reed’s Guitar Playing (1969)




What was the Velvet Underground? A Kim Fowly-like art project that outlived its impresario’s interest? A main vehicle for Lou Reed, rock’s egomaniac underdog (who was no one’s ingénue)? Was it three bands? 1. The Velvet Underground and Nico; 2. The Velvet Underground with John Cale; and 3. The Velvet Underground with Doug Yule after Cale’s departure. (Let’s pass by, for the moment, whether VU without Reed warrants a mention…)

Each iteration pioneered essential underground sounds — dirgy Euro-folk rock, strung-out New York garage rock, junkie ballads, psychedelic drone, experimental noise — nearly all of them channeled through Reed’s underrated guitar playing, which was, perhaps the most important member of the band all along. Whoever taped the Velvets (in their second incarnation) on March 15, 1969, on the last night of a three-show engagement at The Boston Tea Party in Boston, MA, seemed to think so. “The entire set was recorded by a fan directly from Lou Reed’s guitar amplifier,” MetaFilter points out.




The mic jammed in the back of Reed’s amp, a Head Heritage reviewer writes, produced “a mighty electronic roar that reveals the depth and layers of Reed’s playing. Over and undertones, feedback, string buzz, the scratch of fingers on frets and the crackle and hum of tube amps combine to create a monolithic blast of metal machine music.” Known as the “legendary guitar amp tape” and long sought by collectors and fans, the bootleg, which you can hear above, “serves as a testament to the brilliance and innovation of Reed’s guitar-playing — both qualities that are often underrated, if not overlooked entirely, by critics of his work,” as Richie Unterberger writes.

It should be evident thus far that these recordings are hardly a comprehensive document of the Velvet Underground in early 1969. Except for Mo Tucker’s glorious, but muffled thumping and some of Sterling Morrison’s excellent guitar interplay, the rest of the band is hardly audible. Songs like “Candy Says” and “Jesus” — on which Reed does not create sublime swirls of noise and feedback — chug along monotonously without their melodies. “It is frustrating,” Unterberger admits, “to hear such a one-dimensional audio-snapshot of what is clearly a good — if not great — night for the band” (who were far more than one of their parts). On the other hand, nowhere else can we hear the nuance, ferocity, and outright insanity of Reed’s playing so amply demonstrated on the majority of this document.

The tape circulated for years as a Japanese bootleg, an interesting fact, notes a Rate Your Music commenter, “considering this bears more similarity to recordings from the likes of [legendary Japanese psych rock band] Les Rallizes Dénudés than most of the Velvet Underground’s other material.” The recordings may have well paved the way for the explosion of Japanese psychedelic rock to come. They also demonstrate the influence of Ornette Coleman in Reed’s playing, and the liberating philosophy Coleman would come to call Harmolodics.

“Alla that boo-ha about whether Reed really was influenced by free jazz,” writes one reviewer quoted on MetaFilter, “can be put to rest here as he pulls the kind of wailing hallucinatory shapes from the guitar that it would take the goddam Blue Humans to decode a couple of decades later.” It may well overstate the case to claim that “Lou Reed single-handedly invented underground music,” but we can hear in these recordings the seeds of everything from Television to Sonic Youth to Pavement to Royal Trux and so much more. See the full tracklist below, a “classic setlist,” notes MetaFilter, “from around the time of their 3rd LP.”

I Can’t Stand It
Candy Says
I’m Waiting For The Man
Ferryboat Bill
I’m Set Free
What Goes On
White Light White Heat
Beginning To See The Light
Jesus
Heroin / Sister Ray
Move Right In
Run Run Run
Foggy Notion

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Andy Warhol Explains Why He Decided to Give Up Painting & Manage the Velvet Underground Instead (1966)

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The Velvet Underground Captured in Color Concert Footage by Andy Warhol (1967)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stream 160 In-Depth Radio Interviews with Clive James, Pico Iyer, Greil Marcus & Other Luminaries from the Marketplace of Ideas Archive

Would you like to to hear a long-form conversation about the history of the vinyl LP? Or about the history of human rights? About the plight of book reviewing in America? The wild excesses of the art market? The nature of boredom? The true meaning of North Korean propaganda? What it’s like to live in Bangkok? What it’s like to go on a road trip with David Foster Wallace? The answer to all of the above: of course you do. And now you can hear these conversations and many more besides in the complete archive of the public radio show The Marketplace of Ideas, which has just now come available to stream on Youtube.

How, you may wonder, did I get such early word of this interview trove’s availability? Because, in the years before I began writing here on Open Culture, I created, produced, and hosted the show myself. The project grew, in a sense, out of my dissatisfaction with the radio interviews I’d been hearing, the vast bulk of which struck me as too brief, fragmentary, and programmatic to be of any real value.




What’s more, it was often painfully obvious how little interest in the subject under discussion the interviewers had themselves. With The Marketplace of Ideas, I set out to do the opposite of practically everything I’d heard done on the radio before.

Like all worthwhile goals, mine was paradoxical: to conduct interviews of the deepest possible depth as well as the widest possible breadth. On one week the topic might be evolutionary economics, on another the philosophical quarrel between David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on another the history of American film comedy, on another the legacy of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and on another still the ascent of Californian wine over French. (This principle also applied to the political spectrum: I delighted in bringing on, say, the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater as well as a former member of the Weather Underground.) An interesting person is, as they say, an interested person, and throughout the show’s run I trusted my listeners to be interesting people.

The same went for my interviewees, whatever their cultural domain: novelists like Alexander Theroux, Tom McCarthy, Joshua Cohen, and Geoff Dyer; scientists like David P. Barash, Alan Sokal (he of the “Sokal Hoax”), and Sean Carroll; critics like James Wood, Greil Marcus, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, and J. Hoberman; economists like Tyler Cowen (twice), Robin Hanson, Steven E. Landsburg, and Tim Harford (twice); biographers of Brian Eno, Nick Drake, and Michel de Montaigne;  translators of Jorge Luis Borges, César Aira, and Robert Walser; broadcasters like Peter Sagal, Robert Pogue Harrison (of Entitled Opinions), Jesse Thorn, and Michael Silverblatt; philosophers like Kwame Anthony Appiah and Simon Blackburn; technologists like Steve Wozniak and Kevin Kelly; filmmakers like Ramin Bahrani (director of the existential Werner Herzog-narrated plastic-bag short previously featured here on Open Culture), So Yong Kim, Andrew Bujalski, Aaron Katz; and musicians like Nick Currie, a.k.a Momus (twice), Jack Hues of Wang Chung, and Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi.

The Marketplace of Ideas aired between 2007 and 2011, and the passage of a decade since the show’s end prompted me to take a look — or rather a listen — back at it. So  did the fact that a fair few of its guests have since shuffled off this mortal coil: Arts & Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton, film critic Peter Brunette, literary scholar Angus Fletcher, documentarian Pepita Ferrari, writer and editor Daniel Menaker, cultural polymath Clive James. That interview with James was a dream fulfilled, due not just to my personal enthusiasm for his writing but the ideal of intellectual omnivorousness he represented — an ideal toward which I strove on the show, and continue to strive in my pursuits today.  Even more than our conversation itself, I fondly remember an exchange after we finished recording but before we hung up the phone. He thanked me for actually reading his book, and I told him I’d thought all interviewers did the same. His response: “That’s the first naïve thing you’ve said all hour.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch a Never-Aired TV Profile of James Baldwin (1979)

In 1979, just a couple of months into his stint with 20/20, ABC’s fledgling television news magazine, producer and documentarian Joseph Lovett was “beyond thrilled” to be assigned an interview with author James Baldwin, whose work he had discovered as a teen.

Knowing that Baldwin liked to break out the bourbon in the afternoon, Lovett arranged for his crew to arrive early in the morning to set up lighting and have breakfast waiting before Baldwin awakened:

He hadn’t had a drop to drink and he was brilliant, utterly brilliant. We couldn’t have been happier.

Pioneering journalist Sylvia Chase conducted the interview. The segment also included stops at Lincoln Center for a rehearsal of Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner, and the Police Athletic League’s Harlem Center where Baldwin (and perhaps the camera) seems to unnerve a teen reporter, cupping his chin at length while answering his question about a Black writer’s chances:

There never was a chance for a Black writer.  Listen, a writer, Black or white, doesn’t have much of a chance. Right? Nobody wants a writer until he’s dead. But to answer your question, there’s a greater chance for a Black writer today than there ever has been.

In the Manhattan building Baldwin bought to house a number of his close-knit family, Chase corners his mother in the kitchen to ask if she’d had any inkling her son would become such a success.




“No, I didn’t think that,” Mrs. Baldwin cuts her off. “But I knew he had to write.”

Baldwin speaks frankly about outing himself to the general public with his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room and about what it means to live as a Black man in a nation that has always favored its white citizens:

The American sense of reality is dictated by what Americans are trying to avoid. And if you’re trying to avoid reality, how can you face it?

Nearly 35 years before Black Lives Matter’s formation, he tackles the issue of white fragility by telling Chase, “Look, I don’t mean it to you personally. I don’t even know you. I have nothing against you. I don’t know you personally, but I know you historically. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t swear to the freedom of all mankind and put me in chains.”

The finished piece is a superb, 60 Minutes-style profile that covers a lot of ground, and yet, 20/20 chose not to air it.

After the show ran Chase’s interview with Michael Jackson, producer Lovett inquired as to the delay and was told that no one would be interested in a “queer, Black has-been”:

I was stunned, I was absolutely stunned, because in my mind James Baldwin was no has-been. He was a classic American writer, translated into every language in the world, and would live on forever, and indeed he has. His courage and his eloquence continue to inspire us today.

On June 24, Joseph Lovett will moderate James Baldwin: Race, Media, and Psychoanalysis, a free virtual panel discussion centering on his 20/20 profile of James Baldwin, with psychoanalysts Victor P. Bonfilio and Annie Lee Jones, and Baldwin’s niece, author Aisha Karefa-Smart. Register here.

H/T to author Sarah Schulman

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Listen to James Baldwin’s Record Collection in a 478-track, 32-Hour Spotify Playlist

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch an Accurate Reconstruction of the World’s Oldest Computer, the 2,200 Year-Old Antikythera Mechanism, from Start to Finish

There’s nothing like an ancient mystery, especially one as seemingly insoluble as the origins of “the world’s first computer,” the Antikythera mechanism. Discovered off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, the corroded collection of gears and dials seemed fake to scientists at first because of its ingeniousness. It has since been dated to 100 to 150 BC and has inspired decades of research and speculative reconstruction. Yet, no one knows who made it, and more importantly, no one knows how it was made.

“The distance between this device’s complexity and others made at the same time is infinite,” says Adam Wojcik, a materials scientist at the University College of London. “Frankly, there is nothing like it that has ever been found. It’s out of this world.”




The expression should not make us think of ancient aliens — the Antikythera mechanism contains more than enough evidence of human limitation, showing a geocentric model of the cosmos with the only five planets its maker would have known.

The 2,000-plus year-old device continues to reveal its secrets, including hidden inscriptions found during CT scans of the object, as Smithsonian reported in 2015. The mechanism is “similar in size to a mantel clock, and bits of wood found on the fragments suggest it was housed in a wooden case. Like a clock, the case would’ve had a large circular face with rotating hands. There was a knob or handle on the side, for winding the mechanism forward or backward. And as the knob turned, trains of interlocking gearwheels drove at least seven hands at various speeds. Instead of hours and minutes, the hands displayed celestial time.”

If the Antikythera mechanism is a “celestial clock,” who better to design and build its reconstruction than a clockmaker? That is exactly what we see in the videos above, created for the clockmaking YouTube channel Clickspring. Using the best scientific model of the mechanism to date — published this year by Dr. Tony Freeth and colleagues of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project — Clickspring shows how the device might have fit together and makes educated guesses about the right placement of its dozens of small parts.

You can see a preview of the Antikythera reconstruction project at the top, watch the full project above, and see individual episodes showcasing different phases of construction on YouTube. The model “conforms to all the physical evidence,” Freeth writes, “and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the mechanism itself.” What no one can figure out, however, is just how the ancient Greek artisans who made it shaped precision metal parts without lathes and other modern tools of the machine-makers trade. Researchers, and clockmakers, may have pieced together the Antikythera puzzle, but the mystery of how it came into existence at all remains unsolved.

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Modern Artists Show How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Coins, Vases & Artisanal Glass

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Wikipedia’s Surprising Power in Shaping Science: A New MIT Shows How Wikipedia Shapes Scientific Research

If you were in high school or college when Wikipedia emerged, you’ll remember how strenuously we were cautioned against using such an “unreliable source” for our assignments. If you went on to a career in science, however, you now know how important a role Wikipedia plays in even professional research. It may thus surprise you to learn that students still get more or less the same warning about what, two decades later, has become the largest encyclopedia and fifth most-visited web site in the world. “Many of us use Wikipedia as a source of information when we want a quick explanation of something,” say MIT’s citation guidelines. “However, Wikipedia or other wikis, collaborative information sites contributed to by a variety of people, are not considered reliable sources for academic citation.”

That quotation appears, somewhat ironically, in a recent MIT research paper called “Science is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial.” Its authors, Neil C. Thompson from MIT and Douglas Hanley from the University of Pittsburgh, use both “Big Data” and experimental approaches to support their claim that “incorporating ideas into a Wikipedia article leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature.”




Testing the existence of an underlying causal relationship, they “commissioned subject matter experts to create new Wikipedia articles on scientific topics not covered in Wikipedia.” Half of these articles were added to Wikipedia, and half retained as a control group. “Reviewing the relevant journal articles published later, they find that “the word-usage patterns from the treatment group show up more in the prose in the scientific literature than do those from the control group.”

In other words, Wikipedia does indeed appear to shape science — or as Wharton professor Ethan Mollick put it on Twitter, “The secret heart of academia is… Wikipedia.” Expanding on the idea, he added that “Wikipedia is used like a review article,” which surveys the current state of a particular scientific field. “Review articles are extremely influential on the direction of scientific research, and while Wikipedia articles are generally less influential, there are more of them, they are more up-to-date, and they are free.” That last point — and the implied contrast to traditional, scientific journals with their often shockingly high subscription fees — becomes a key point in Thompson and Hanley’s advocacy for public repositories of knowledge in general, with their power to galvanize research across the whole world. The power of open culture is considerable; the power of open science, perhaps even more so.

You can read Hanley and Thompson’s study on the power of Wikipedia free online: “Science is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Age of Cathedrals: A Free Online Course from Yale University

From Yale professor Howard Bloch comes Age of Cathedrals, an online course that offers “an introduction to some of the most astonishing architectural monuments the world has ever known—Gothic cathedrals,” including Notre Dame, Chartres, and Saint-Denis. The course description adds: “We shall study the art, literature, intellectual life, economics, and new social arrangements that arose in the shadow of the cathedrals and that were such an important part of the revival of cities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The goal of the course is a better appreciation of the High Middle Ages, a world that is still recognizably our own.”

You can take Age of Cathedrals for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

Age of Cathedrals has been added to our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Blockchain and Money: A Free Online Course from MIT

Taught by MIT professor Gary Gensler, Blockchain and Money is “for students wishing to explore blockchain technology’s potential use—by entrepreneurs and incumbents—to change the world of money and finance. The course begins with a review of Bitcoin and an understanding of the commercial, technical, and public policy fundamentals of blockchain technology, distributed ledgers, and smart contracts. The class then continues on to current and potential blockchain applications in the financial sector.”

You can watch all 23 lectures above, or on YouTube. A syllabus and other course materials can be found on MIT’s website. More related courses are listed below.

Blockchain and Money has been added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Hear the Amati “King” Cello, the Oldest Known Cello in Existence (c. 1560)

The Stradivari family has received all of the popular acclaim for perfecting the violin. But we should know the name Amati — in whose Cremona workshop Antonio Stradivari apprenticed in the 17th century. The violin-making family was immensely important to the refinement of classical instruments. “Born around 1505,” writes Jordan Smith at CMuse, founder Andrea Amati “is considered the father of modern violinmaking. He made major steps forward in improving the design of violins, including through the development of sound-holes” into their now-familiar f-shape.

Among Amati’s creations is the so-called “King” cello, made in the mid-1500s, part of a set of 38 stringed instruments decorated and “painted in the style of Limoges porcelain” for the court of King Charles IX of France.




The instrument is now the oldest known cello and “one of the few Amati instruments still in existence.” And yet, calling the “King” a cello is a bit of a historical stretch. “The terminology referring to the early forms of cello is convoluted and inconsistent,” Matthew Zeller notes at the Strad. “Andrea Amati would likely have referred to the ‘King’ as the basso (bass violin).”

Images courtesy of National Music Museum

The instrument remained in the French court until the French Revolution, after which the basso fell out of favor and the “King” was “drastically reduced in size” through an alteration process that “stood at the forefront of musical instrument development during the last quarter of the 18th century and throughout the 19th,” a way transform obsolete forms into those more suitable for contemporary music. “By 1801,” Zeller writes, “the date that the ‘King’ might have been reduced, large-format bassos were obsolete, discarded in favour of the smaller-bodied cellos.”

Zeller has studied the extensive alteration of the “King” cello (including a new neck and enlargement from three strings to four) with CT scans of its joints and examinations of now-distorted decorations. The reduction means we cannot hear its original glory — and it was, by all accounts, a glorious instrument, “a member of a larger family of instruments of fixed measurements related together by profound mathematical, geometrical, and acoustical relationships of size and tone,” writes Yale conservator Andrew Dipper, “which gave the set the ability to perform, in unison, some of the world’s first orchestral music for bowed strings.”

We can, however, hear the “King” cello (briefly, at the top) in its current (circa 1801), form, and it still sounds stunning. Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum visited the cello at its home in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota in 2005 to play it. “It didn’t take much effort to find the instrument’s naturally sweet, warm sound,” he says. “It was incredibly easy to play — comfortable, pleasurable, forgiving, and user-friendly…. I felt at home.” Learn more about the latest research on the “King” cello at Google Arts & Culture and the Strad.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Beautiful, High-Resolution Map of the Internet (2021)


The beginnings of the Internet were uncharted territory, especially before the days of graphic browsers. You had a number, you dialed up to a location. Certain locations were named after their host universities or government sites and that made sense in an old-school telephone exchange way. But the rest was just a vast ocean of data, of strange lands, and many, many barriers. How big, exactly, is the internet? And how do we measure it? What is the “space” of cyberspace?

There have been maps that overlay the internet’s main landlines onto the map of the earth—this Vox article shows the spidery web growing from the first four locations of ARPANET until the whole world is connected. But that’s not how we think of it. Surely Open Culture is always where you, dear reader, reside, and this writer’s undisclosed location has nothing to do with it. Maybe the internet is really the space that it takes up in our minds, in our lives, and in the amount of internet traffic.




Amateur graphic designer Martin Vargic visualized those spaces as countries on a vast globe inspired by National Geographic Magazine. (Although National Geographic borrowed its cartographic style from some of the first printed maps of the world.) Vargic first published his map in 2014 when he was a student in Slovakia. And now he has decided to update the map for 2021. (See the map in high resolution here.) Large continents represent the main websites of the Internet: Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon. The seas represent the aforementioned ocean of data under different names: Ocean of Information, North Connection Ocean, etc. To compare his relatively spare original map to the one he just released is to notice how much more crowded this world has become, and how divided.

First, his methodology.

Vargic based the relative size of each website on its average traffic between January 2020 and January 2021, according to Alexa Rank, the Amazon-owned Alexa Internet’s measure of how popular a website is, calculated by unique users and page views.

However, the center of the map is now different. This now depicts the “core and backbone of the Internet as we know it,” Vargic said. This means a core of service providers surrounded by larger islands of web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, et al).

While the 2014 map considered website size as the main organizer and contained around 200 websites, this version contains 3,000. The north of the globe features country clusters: a grouping of academic, research, and free education sites (wikipedia, archive.org, etc.), governmental websites to the east and conspiracy QAnon lands to the west.

The Antarctica of the map? The Dark Web, where the Onion isn’t a parody news site and TOR isn’t the sci-fi/fantasy publisher.

You might find some of Vargic’s decisions odd, or you might just spend your time wondering how much of the internet is indeed an unknown land, with large “countries” you’ve never heard of, but with millions of “residents”. It might not be real, but Vargic’s map will put you in an exploratory mood while you light off for the territories. You can view it in a high resolution format here. Purchase it as a poster here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.





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