Over at BuzzFeed, they asked Brits to label a map of the USA. Most of them didn’t do very well.
This one is funny – others were abominable. Squaresies?
Turnabout is fair play, so they also asked Americans to label a map of Europe:
But the question got more personal when I decided to see how well I would fare instead of pointing the finger of scorn at the poor showing of others. So I did the following maps with no prompting or cheating, and here is the brutal result:
I started with Europe, which I have spent a good part of my life crisscrossing for work, study and pleasure. I swapped Kosovo and Montenegro, reversed Sardinia and Corsica – Ocatarinetabellatchitchix would never forgive me, I’m off to hide in the maquis – and got Lithuania and Latvia backwards. I did remember to put Malta and San Marino in, but forgot Monaco and Gibraltar, although I know they’re there. Totally zoned out on Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova, and anything eastwards there be dragons. I give myself a B+, but I should have done better.
Then I came back home to see how well I would do with my own country.
For as many times as I’ve driven across this nation I should have these down cold. Kansas and Nebraska got reversed; I’m sure I’m no longer welcome at my cousin Laura’s place in Olathe. I have been in Kentucky but only a few times passing through, and I couldn’t dredge up its name to save my soul. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa simply vanished from my memory; even trying to recite Wakko’s song about the capitals didn’t help, i could only get halfway through. I put Michigan on the wrong side of the lake, and reversed Vermont and New Hampshire. Thank Mogg I know where Maine is or I’d be sleeping in the gutter tonight. I do know where Rhode Island is, but I just forgot to write it in.
Again, probably about a B+. Shameful.
I thought about trying Africa, but looked at an outline map and promptly threw up. I could place Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. I could do Egypt, Libya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the DRC, and Madagascar. Given all the princes and government officials who have contacted me, I should know exactly where Nigeria is, but frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.  Beyond a couple of random others, it would be just like that “Sorry, No Idea” above. I know there are lions and tigers, but only in Kenya. 
How about trying to identify the provinces of Canada? Well, BC’s out west, then moving east I know there’s Alberta and Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, and Newfoundland; Nunavut’s up in the frozen north, and I know I’ve missed a few, but I haven’t spent a lot of time up there. Australia? Geez. I could probably place Queensland, NSW and Canberra, because I’ve been there, and I know where Tasmania is – the rest of the country is Kangarooland for all I know.
Asia? Too many “-stans” that I couldn’t even begin to identify; China, Mongolia, India, Tibet, Pakistan, and Bangladesh I know; I could place Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Viet Nam, but would probably mix up Laos, Burma, Cambodia, and any others that happen to be out there. And as for the islands of the sea, I can name a lot of Pacific and Caribbean countries, but would get an “F” if I tried to place them on a map.
This all popped up over at Facebook, and a comment my son left is germane: “What’s the point?”
Well, there are a few good reasons for knowing this kind of thing. First and foremost is winning bar bets and getting karma on reddit. Specialized knowledge would be useful for specific careers – say, if you work for the Census Bureau, or FEMA, or certain other government agencies, or the UN High Commision for Refugees, or the merchant marine, or things like that. Or if you’re a Geography teacher.
But more importantly, broad knowledge is a symptom rather than an end in itself.
In Synergetics, Buckminster Fuller said,
“We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable. Consequently, society expects all earnestly responsible communication to be crisply brief. . . . In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others.”
And in The Roving Mind, Isaac Asimov said that
“Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise — even in their own field.”
But by far my favorite quote about specialization and the expansion of knowledge comes from Robert Heinlein, in Time Enough for Love:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
“However unorganized his body of knowledge may be, he is still a source of many bits of information, and despite his mere 85-lb. bulk was one of our most determined and energetic trippers.”
The older I’ve gotten, the worse it gets. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know – and I want to know more. I want to know and understand it all. And having a mind that has remained as scattered and disorganized as it always has been, one which can remember some of the most arcane and useless facts imaginable and still forget where the hqiz I put my keys 10 minutes ago, doesn’t help one bit.
Focus is definitely a challenge, because we only have a limited time on this green earth, and there are things that need to be done. As a youth I was admonished to concentrate my efforts into sufficiently few lines of endeavor that I might become proficient, giving me strength in my position in life. In some ways, I have done that. In others it’s been really …
The Old Wolf has spoken.
 He said “my dear.”
 That’s a joke.
Yeah, I was kind of appalled at how badly people did those European maps, but to me the map hasn’t changed since I left (West!) Germany in 1970. What the heck are all those weird little countries doing in there? 😉 And—the bigger question—why do they keep drawing East and West Germany together? Oh, yeah . . .