To understand the processes of the new age, we need a fresh focus on geography, argues Norbert Csizmadia
We are living in a unique ‘geo’ age, in which geography – an underrated discipline in the latter half of the 20th century – is appreciated once more because the international landscape of the 21st century is characterised by political and economic games. In this multipolar world, a new world order and a new value system are combined to develop new players and fresh industries.
Now is the era of knowledge and creativity; and education and innovation have become the most important investments. Knowledge is the currency of the future. When drawn with this knowledge, the map of the 21st century can be used to discover and understand this new world order.
A multipolar world order: re-discovering geography
But what do these 21st-century maps look like, how has our world changed and why is it important to understand the current global economic and political changes of the 21st century through geography? While globalisation was decisive between 1980 and 2010, the 2008 economic crisis has led to new forms of cooperation, ways of thinking, innovative solutions and fresh values.
Since 2010, globalisation has entered an era of technology and knowledge, within which geography and economic geography have risen in prominence; geopolitical processes are being replaced by geoeconomic processes. Instead of empires being formed from land acquisition, competition for markets is taking place. We live in the age of networks and mergers, and in this interconnected world, the complex approach has become the most important one. 21st-century interfaces are extremely important. Geography, geoeconomics, geopolitics and the global economy can be combined with a complex view of our world. In this era of fusion, we are searching for maps, and to find out – wit h the help of geography – who will be the leaders of today’s ‘winning’ nations and communities.
But, in order for us to understand the global political and economic geographic processes around us, maps must be redefined and redrawn unambiguously. In this way, once-peripheral areas will become centres again. The 2008 economic and financial crisis created a new world order, a new value
system with new players, new collaborations, and even new places, with former centres becoming peripheral, and former peripherals starting to take centre stage. Past formulas and dogmas have failed, so we need a new way of thinking and new methods. In light of technology’s rise to prominence, one of the main questions business leaders need to ask themselves is: ‘What role will locations have at this technology-driven time?’ When technology, knowledge and geography are formulated into a single word, we get the portmanteau ‘tech-know-led-geography’. This is my term for knowledge in the geographic world of the technological era. This is the geography of knowledge and fusion – ‘geofusion’ – which becomes a crossroads for complex knowledge and geography in the age of networks.
The importance of maps
To understand the processes of the new age, we need maps. Maps are continually evolving and developing, but their meaning and importance remain unchanged. From maps, we can see countries
that are marked with different colours; country borders that separate countries (with different colours to make them more perceptible), as well as continents and oceans. The political map of today’s world comprises nearly 200 countries with five continents and three big oceans. Europe isalways in the middle in this common model, Asia to the east, America (North and South) to the west, with the continents separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
Maps can help us with a new way of thinking. If we look at the world from a different perspective, we can create a new one. Think how different the world map looks from the perspective of Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Now imagine now what our world would look like if we constructed its map from the flight routes of the 182 air companies of the world; the results of international research collaboration and scientific work, or a simple Facebook map of two billion people – to produce a networked map, with lines and nodes at the junctions that draw the lines of the 21st century and the main centres of the cities.
And what would our world map look like if it depicted cities instead of countries, and came without country boundaries? This could, for example, depict the most important network map of nearly 400 cities around the world, or the world’s 50 mostimportant airports? The more populous a city, the greater its point on the map. Benjamin Hennig, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Iceland, has completely redefined the world map on his Views of the World website. His work is based on the premise that, in a given category, the more significant a city or country is, the more it should protrude from the map, and the world map this creates will reveal the spatial processes taking place on Earth in a whole new light. It is effectively a global population map. I mentioned that the 21st century is the century of knowledge and creativity, and one in which individual ideas and innovations have become the most important currencies. Countries that do not have the requisite knowledge will be forced to buy it. We are also witnessing the rise of geography, and the geoeconomy that has emerged – in particular, through the linking of the economy and geography – is becoming increasingly important.
In March 2016, London’s Tacitus Lecture series asked Sir Paul Tucker, a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, which he believed would be the ‘winning’ countries, nations, communities and leaders of the 21st century. He predicted that countries that coordinate their monetary policy, their
economic policy and their geopolitics, would come out on top. Geoeconomics defines global economic processes as the fusion point of economics, social sciences and geography. In this sense, the rise of geoeconomics is also a race that uses the language of trade, but the logic of war.
Two passwords: ‘connectivity’ and ‘complexity’
The map of the 21st century contains another element that is more important than borders, and that is the network line that crosses places and continents, and connects them. These are infrastructure lines. In a 2016 TED Talk, international relations specialist Parag Khanna said that there are 500,000 kilometres of borders around the world, 1m kilometres of underwater internet cables, 2m kilometres of gas pipelines, 4m kilometres of railway networks, and some 64m kilometres of roads.
These networks – not borders – will be the most important lines on our maps. China’s long-term geostrategy aims to relocate the axis of the world economy to the continents and away from from the oceans. The new Silk Road or the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ was launched by China in 2013. China’s long-term plan is to recapture the historical, cultural, economic and commercial importance of Eurasia by building a new Silk Road. This consists of railway lines, the development of sea and land ports, motorway construction, theestablishment and development of logistics centres, and networks that are implemented through economic corridors.
Since the initiative’s launch, substantial financial investments and plans have been made to support the new Eurasian economic zone. The China Development Bank is thought to have allocated some $900bn USD to hundreds of different projects. The original Silk Road is, of course, of huge historical significance, having embraced four empires and delivered the most important products of the era: technological novelties, innovations and knowledge, as well as quality products all exchanged hands along the Silk Road.
But this trade route consists of not only infrastructure networks, but also knowledge sharing, people-to-people connections, and cultural and financial cooperation. Since 2013, there have been 3,673 trains running between 38 Chinese and 36 European cities, helping to create more than 180,000 new jobs. The port of Piraeus in Greece can reduce the length of sea transportation from Asia to Europe by 20 days, while transit on the railway route from Duisburg in Germany to Xi’an in China could take just 18-24 days.
An age of fusion
In this age of knowledge and geoeconomy, we live in a world of fusion. For example, there is fusion in gastronomy, music, science, and architecture. Fusion is especially important because it comes about naturally at meeting points; in other words, at the hubs of networks producing innovations. In the case of gastronomy, fusion is said to appear when east meets west. And in this age of fusion – or geofusion – the raw material of the 21st century will be data (or big data), knowledge, creativity, experimentation and service, with new agents and a new system of cooperation. The small will be the new ‘big’ – as demonstrated by startup companies, startup cities, and startup nations. We will witness a technological and entrepreneurial revolution in a new Cambrian landmark moment [referring to the geological timescale division]. Which 21st-centruy map is the most important? For me, it might well be the map of the internet with all its networks and hubs.