Two pictures have taken up residence in my mind over the past few weeks. They highlight the growing disconnect between the U.S. Defense Department and the broader strategic environment—not just in terms of geopolitics but also in the way the rest of the world lives, works and interacts.
The first image captures how the Defense Department views the world. It is a simple map with neat lines delineating the different joint combatant commands. While the boundaries make sense in a conventional way, they are drawn merely for geographic convenience. Implicitly, those lines preclude interaction between constituent elements.
The second image is elegant, beautiful and haunting in its complexity. It is an image of the world as it actually is—interconnected, unbounded by geography, spanning the globe with dynamic diversity. This image was the project of Paul Butler, a Facebook intern whose curiosity led him to an interesting project: visualize the relationships for 10 million of the 250 million users on Facebook in 2009. He plotted not only the location of the Facebook user but also more critically the location of each of their friends. This second image is the result.
Each “line” represents the flow of goods, information, ideas and relationships, unbounded by traditional geography. Consider too, the many geopolitical implications inset in the image. For instance, China lacks much “light.” As China is the most populated country in the world, one would expect a beautiful montage of light and lines. Instead, China’s strict Internet controls leave it relatively dark and disconnected.