The Speed of News

In college, I was fortunate enough to take a course on Sumerian literature from Christopher Woods. We learned, among other things, that in ancient Sumeria places that were far away were also somehow farther in the past. This is roughly similar to the correspondence between space and time which we study in relativity. Why did the Sumerians find space-time unification so natural? In my final paper, I argued that at the core of both conceptions of space-time was the limited speed of information. In ancient Sumeria, the speed of information was much slower than the speed of light, and thus the time-bending effects of space were more evident. Fortunately, Dr. Woods was a physics student in his youth and let me get away with writing 10 pages about physics for my Civilization Studies course.

Several years later and a couple weeks ago, I participated in the hack@UChicago Fall Hackathon on a whim. I was tooting around after the workshops, trying to figure out what to make, when I remembered that paper.

I decided to make a map that would let you see what sort of news you would be hearing from around the world if news traveled at human speeds. The blue (draggable) marker is your current location. You can click the map to find the news that you would be hearing from there. There's a dropdown menu with different news speeds.

To make the map, I used a simple Leaflet map with a Mapbox tile layer. I use the Mapbox geocoder to find the location of your click; it is, regrettably, of little use outside of the United States and southern Canada. I use the New York Times Article Search API to find news from that location; it has similar regional problems. Unfortunately the Google News API was deprecated long ago.

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