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March 1999

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Geography 101: Get Out There and Explore

Using the ’net to whet your global appetite.

By Brad Ross

When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "global village," it’s unlikely he foresaw the path that communications would take. The Internet, for example, has grown in ways that no one could have predicted, not even McLuhan.

While e-mail can be a powerful and useful tool, the bottomless pit of jokes and cutesy animated cards that make their way around the world often stretch the computer’s processor and the user’s patience. It’s safe to say, however, that McLuhan would endorse the World Wide Web – or at least its concept.

But taken literally, the notion of a global village – in the context of the web – poses some interesting and sometimes, troubling questions.

Does the notion of a wired world contemplate travel as somehow unnecessary? After all, with a few keystrokes here, a mouse click there and faster than you can say "www," images and sounds of the Borneo rain forest abound – no passport required. Heck, you might even encounter an orangutan, cell phone in hand, with the cutline "This web site is sponsored by…" You get the picture.

Yes, sun worshippers will still wing their way to sandy beaches and turquoise seas, but studying geopolitics and what makes the earth so unique should not be relegated to the ’net alone. It’s a starting point. At some point you gotta give up the mouse and get out there and explore.

This isn’t a lament for reality. It’s a reality check. Use these geography-related sites as a jumping-off point. And try to leave the lap-top at home.


Capitals.com – Countries and Capitals from Around the World

This site offers an exhaustive list of countries, their capitals and territories, with encyclopedic-like entries for quick and easy reference. Users encounter an overview of the world on the main page, replete with population, land mass, climate, elevation extremes, natural resources, and so on. Just how exhaustive is this reference? Well, Clipperton Island in the north Pacific Ocean has a total land mass of seven sq. km. and a coastline of 11.1 km. There are no inhabitants and no natural resources, but it does have a tuna fishing station. This French possession, by the way, is subject to tornadoes. Impress your friends.

Canadian Communities Atlas

An initiative of the federal government, this web-based project is designed by students and teachers. It allows individual schools to create an atlas of their community with physical, economic, human and historical geographic themes. It’s free to participate in, and if you’ve ever only heard of Brandon and aren’t quite sure what’s there, well, here’s where to get all the, um, dirt. An excellent way to combine several curriculums in one project.


What makes for a good web site? Currency. And the National Geographic’s site is certainly that, with daily updates. The site boasts pages related to the society’s television series, magazine, a children’s section, photography, on-line quizzes and a range of interactive bits and bytes. Teachers can also subscribe to e-mail updates to assist them with in-class projects.


Webcams, while voyeuristic, can be fascinating little tools. Essentially, a webcam is a digital camera that captures live images, feeding them to a web site, with updates every few minutes. New York City has several webcams at strategic points. But we’ve all seen the New York skyline. Some would argue that we all know what the Russian Kremlin looks like, too. However, this web site offers not only a live image of Moscow’s famous, and once infamous, edifice, but image archives, weather, economic updates, and details about what you’re seeing. An interesting window on the world.

Brad Ross is associate editor of Professionally Speaking and the College’s web editor. He can be reached by e-mail at bross@oct.ca.