Talk about having dominion over the land and sea and sky

Click on me for a stunning large version. It's mesmerizing.

I’ve loved maps my whole life, enough so that I stop and gawk at something new.  Like this mapping of our presence and movement around our planet:  where we live and how we get around.

These filaments of our lives are quite recent.  Air traffic is much less than a hundred years old.  The shipping routes, too, not much more than that.  If indeed we could animate the increase, and thereby, rewind, we’d see a much different picture.  Air travel falls away:  we’d see the single thread of Charles Lindbergh’s flight crossing the Atlantic.  Shipping routes thin out, more regional, coast-hugging.  Urban areas dissolve to half a dozen core settlements per continent, linked by an open web of roads.

What might the cartographers have generated with a world of just 1.6 billion humans, our population just a century ago?

Pan out to our simple planetary system of earth and moon so that we include satellite traffic, spaceflight,  and lunar explorations.  Even though vast reaches of our planet remain free of continuous human influence, the doubling of our large population clearly leaves a deep footprint.

The whole country will only need four of these things . . . no big deal

Nothing like the past’s ennobling view of a future that we already inhabit.  Here, in a 1954 photo from a RAND Corporation publication, we have their notion of a “home computer” in the year 2004, fifty years distant from their monochrome present.  It has a video monitor.  It has a teletype. It even has a steering wheel! It’s unclear if the set also comes with the silver-haired technician in the frumpy suit.

The future is so futuristic!  Some of what was needed to make those things work together had yet to be invented.  Some today might  claim that such a discovery still awaits us.

Not to worry . . . the code is all Fortran, so it will be easy to use.

Apollo Guidance computer - click me!

Leap just 15 years into their future, to 1969, and computers helped Apollo land on the moon. The Macintosh was born in 1983.  The PC soon followed. Blackberries came on the scene in 1999. Compare the 1954 behemoth to my Palm Pre (two years old now) or the iPad2.

It’s all pretty amazing.

Now that it’s done, we may need to rebuild it

Taking 37 years to complete, $114 billion to build, and 46,876 miles long, the Interstate is the world's most extensive road system. Click this map for some forward thinking about the median strip.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, originally conceived in 1939 and signed into being in 1955, was completed in 1992 with last leg of I-70 in California.  All of us have driven over some part of it – a few miles have been recently rebuilt and repaved with stimulus money, while some patches – bridges especially – have original rebar and concrete.  Yikes!

When was the last time the United States initiated anything with such foresight and be so consequential to our way of living?

It is a vast and complicated thing. Imagine just one route, I-90 from Seattle to Boston: it starts near Qwest Field and crosses the Cascades, the Bitterroots, the Continental Divide, the Plains, the Columbia, the Mississippi, slices through Chicago, Cleveland, New York City, and then into Boston, just outside Logan International Airport.

Everyday I drive on just 4.4 miles of I-5 in north Portland.  Even in that short stretch – just 0.0093% of the whole system – I am amazed at the planning, materials, and labor brought to bear on this huge system.


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