Geofusion: mapping the 21st century

To understand the processes of the new age, we need a new 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 again.

The international landscape of the 21st century is characterised by political and economic games, in which the multipolar world, a new world order and a new value system are combined to develop new players and fresh industries.

Business leaders are focusing more on global societal issues, putting pressure on international political activities such as locating the network hubs of creativity and innovation in many aspects of the world economy and culture.

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. My research shows that, when drawn with this knowledge, the map of the 21st century can be utilised 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 1980-2010, 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 geo-economic processes. Instead of empires being formed from land acquisition, competitions for markets are taking place. 

We live in the age of networks and mergers and, and in this interconnected world, the complex approach has become the most important one.  

The 21st century interfaces are extremely important. Geography, geo-economics, 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 – with 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, the maps must be redefined and redrawn unambiguously. The 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, even new places, so as the former centres became peripheral, the former peripherals started to take centre stage.

Past formulas and dogmas have failed, so we need a new way of thinking and new methods. The 21st century is the era of knowledge, technology and innovation.

After the globalisation of yesteryear, technology has now risen to the fore, and 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 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 remains 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 is always in the middle, Asia is east, and to the west is America (North and South), with the continents separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

But, in addition, maps also 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 about how different our world map would look if we were looking from the perspective of Asia and the Pacific Ocean?

Let’s imagine: what would our world 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 just a Facebook map of two billion people – all with a networked map, 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 without country boundaries; the most important network map of nearly 400 cities around the world, or the world’s 50 most important airports? The more populous a city, the greater the point on the map.

Benjamin Higgins, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Iceland, has completely redefined the world map on the View the Soft the Worldwebsite. His work is based on the fact that, in a given category, the more significant a city or a country is, the better it protrudes from the map, so the world maps it creates will reveal the spatial processes taking place on Earth in a whole new colour. It is effectively a global population map.

I mentioned that the 21st century is the century of knowledge and creativity, 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 witnessing the rise of geography, and the geo-economy that has emerged – in particular, through the linking of the economy and geography – is becoming increasingly important.

In March 2016, London’s Tacitus Lectures series asked Paul Tucker, Former Vice President of the British Central Bank, which he believed would be the ‘winning’ countries, nations, communities and leaders of the 21st century. He predicted that the countries that coordinate their monetary policy, their economic policy and their geopolitics, would come out on top. Geo-economics defines global economic processes as the fusion point of economics, social sciences and geography.

We are witnessing the rise of geo-economics, 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 line network that crosses places and continents and connects them. These are infrastructure lines.

In January 2016, during his TED talk, international relations specialist Parag Khanna said that there are 500,000 kilometres of borders around the world, plus a million kilometres of underwater internet cables, 2m kilometres of gas pipelines, 4m kilometres of railway network and some 64m kilometres of road network.

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 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, the establishment and development of logistics centres, and networks that are implemented through economic corridors.

Since the launch of the programme in 2013, substantial financial investments and plans have been made in China to support the new Eurasian economic zone. The China Development Bank has allocated some $900bn USD to hundreds of different projects.

The former Silk Road was historically important, having embraced four empires and delivered the most important products of the era: technological novelties, innovations and knowledge and quality products exchanged hands along the Silk Road. But this trade route consists of not only infrastructure networks, but also of knowledge-sharing, people-to-people connections, and cultural and financial co-operation.

Since 2013, there have been 3,673 trains running between 38 Chinese and 36 European cities, creating 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 a transit on the Xian-Duisburg railway route in China will take 24 days instead of 42 days otherwise. 

An age of fusion

We live in the age of knowledge; in the age of geoeconomy and in a world of fusion.

There is fusion in gastronomy, music, science, and architecture. Fusion is especially important because it comes about unexpectedly at the meeting points; in other words, the hubs of networks producing innovations. 

In case of gastronomy, the 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 big – as demonstrated by start-up companies, start-up cities, and start-up nations. We will witness a technological and entrepreneurial revolution in a new Cambrian landmark moment.

And if I had to highlight one map from the 21st century as the most important, it might well be the map of the internet with its networks and hubs.

Norbert Csizmadia is Author of Geofusion – The Power of Geography and the Mapping of the 21st Century. He is a world traveller, Hungarian geographer and expert in economic strategy, geostrategy, regional and urban development, and geopolitics.

He is the former State Secretary for the Ministry for National Economy, and a former Executive Director of the Central Bank of Hungary in charge of economic strategy and planning. He is President of the Board of Trustees at Pallas Athéne Innovation and Geopolitical Foundation, and Chief Editor of Hungarian Geopolitics (HUG) magazine. 

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