From an individual’s perspective, Earth is so vast that despite being a sphere, for all practical purposes one can treat it as a flat surface.
For instance, consider this imaginary scenario that I go for a brisk walk every morning. I do not have to plan my route keeping Earth’s curvature in mind. Of course, there could be localized undulations that one has to navigate around but by and large we instinctively live as creatures of a flat world. The curvature takes so long to cover individually that it has no practical impact on us.
This preamble was necessary before introducing the subject of this short post inspired by a neat little story by Mark Vanhoenacker in today’s New York Times. It is about a product called the Magic Planet, which is essentially a spherical display screen on which you can project anything. While you can project anything on this digital globe, it is predominantly used as a representation of Earth and as a tool to teach about various natural phenomena that unfold everyday.
Here is how the makers of the Magic Planet, a Silicon Valley company called Global Imagination, describe it, “The Magic Planet is a projection display device – it’s a computer display with a sphere-shaped screen. It’s controlled by a PC or another video source such as a streaming media server, so it can display any global image – it’s tremendously versatile. It allows you to present global information and global context in the most compelling way possible.”
We have all become so used to flat displays that we forget that we live on a giant sphere. I think it is important to be reminded of that from time to time. It is from that standpoint that I am fascinated by the Magic Planet. Apart from being such a cool educational tool for schools around the world, I think it is a great technology to keep us philosophically well-adjusted to our physical reality.
If you have about half an hour I recommend you watch a video about the Magic Planet here. If nothing else, it makes you aware of your planetary home unlike any other display can.
Since essentially it is a display device, you can project any content on it, either recorded or live. However, perhaps the best use would be to offer a mixture of thematic content depending on where you are using it. It is instructive to note that 80 percent of Global Imagination’s orders so far are from China whose government seems to have recognized the importance of this technology. Although as the Times story points out that Chinese schools use it mostly to teach social sciences, it is quite likely that with the passage of time they will make a full use of it with other content as well.
The Magic Planet comes in various sizes between 16 inches to nearly 10 feet in diameter. As the company’s FAQs explain, “The globe is made of durable acrylic with a special coating on the inside that allows the images to be projected clearly. The globe comes standard with anti-glare coating. It can be washed with soap and water.”
Even though the post sounds like a plug, I have chosen to write it simply because this can become a powerful learning tool around the world. It is interesting that China has been so quick to see its potential unlike India which would rather debate if praying and begging could prevent a rape.
The digital globe technology seems ripe for a rapid transformation from its early and expensive versions to something more akin to personal computers. Some might argue against the merit of a spherical display and may even call it a gimmick. I think we can all do with the knowledge that we belong to a spherical world which ultimately curves around itself. If nothing else, that realization certainly has great philosophical merit . About that, some other time.