An exercise in geography

It’s a journey of increasing uneasiness. A guy in an office is browsing Google Earth, and sees a dark circle in the middle of nowhere in Madagascar, and gets curious: he sees buildings inside of an old crater. He traces satellite photos back in time, and learns that the buildings weren’t there before 2008. He digs deeper, never leaving his office, but looking for photos and people on the internet who might help him figure out what’s going on in this remote place, which has virtually no footprint on the web.

So far, I’m with him. This is interesting! How much can you figure out about an isolated spot on the globe without lifting your butt from a chair? He’s calling up people in Madagascar, scientists and college professors, and asking them what’s going on in that crater. It’s purely academic, he just seems to be getting a bit obsessively invested in this random question, and now he’s pestering people on the island.

Then he hires a half dozen people to make the trek from the nearest city to this isolated place. He has the money, he can draft a few locals to do some leg work for him, all to satisfy his curiosity. Unfortunately, it’s the rainy season, the roads are terrible, they can’t get there.

So he waits for the dry season, hires another bunch of locals to make a second trip, and they get there at last. It’s a village of about 300 people. They’re tense and worried. They’re suspicious and wonder why these strangers have suddenly shown up on their doorstep.

They don’t tell them that this well-off white man a few thousand miles away had seen their homes from outer space and had spent a lot of time and money to invade their privacy and make a video telling the whole world about them. As a reward for exposing these people, the video creator got a million views on YouTube and thousands of comments telling him how great he was. But what does the village get? Did they even want this kind of attention?

Here’s the video. It’s professionally done. A lot of people spent a lot of money satisfying idle curiosity, which you’d think I’d appreciate, but I don’t know…how would I feel if a film crew showed up at my house, and they announced that this wealthy Malagasy guy was kind of curious about what I was doing and had commissioned them to come report on how I spent my time? He was too busy to make the trip himself, but he’d definitely make sure everyone knew my business.

Maybe I’d feel less queasy about it all if the narrator had cared enough to make the trip himself, and wasn’t parading the people around on the internet like some kind of exhibit.


  1. wzrd1 says

    I dunno, I’d contact the Ecuadoran embassy and see if anyone there could do me a solid and have some replica shrunken heads shipped to me. I’d then package them for the “explorer”, with a kind note of thanks for his interest and enclosed is the exploratory team.
    When questioned as to the origin of the artifacts, explain it was via my trade tunnel under the volcanic lair.

    You know, leave the poor bastard even more confused than he started out.
    If he persists, a couple of cheap drones mocked up to look like flying saucers photographed over my home should be entertaining.
    If he shows up, I’ll just feed him to my laser toothed shark.

  2. profpedant says

    “They don’t tell them that this well-off white man a few thousand miles away had seen their homes from outer space and had spent a lot of time and money to invade their privacy and make a video telling the whole world about them.”

    Uh….I don’t recall anything about the people in the village not being told the whole story about what was going on. Why did you think that they weren’t told?

  3. seachange says

    I don’t get this.

    I love Google Earth. We live on a big blue marble inside an (increasingly) warm cozy envelope in the middle of a massive deeply bone chillingly cold soul sucking void full of radiation and death. This world and the people in it are actually kinda awesome. All of the explorers in the historic past were very wealthy indeed.

    Mano hates going anywhere. Some people aren’t like that, some are.

    Tourists tramp all over the world and take zillions of photos. Some of them backpack. Some do hotels. Some do it in luxury, where they cruise, or even bring their own yacht-hotel. Many of these poor or not hire tour guides, talk to people, interact with government agencies. He’s doing it in the best luxury of all, his own home.

    Some locals hate tourists. Some love them. Some never see them at all. You and I are old enough that communist governments viewed tourists=spies and highly controlled where a visitor could go and what they could see. We thought very little of these countries, at the time. It was the propaganda of freedom that what they were doing was wrong. So it’s a thing where a government who ‘cared’ about their citizens might address this.

    I don’t see it as bad.

  4. says

    I get what you’re saying. When someone deliberately moves to a hard to reach area, it might be on purpose. Are we sure they wanted this attention? And what happens if every other rich, adventurous asshole suddenly puts this place on their bucket list?

  5. weylguy says

    Time Magazine voted Taylor Swift as its Person of the Year. It’s all about attention, fame, wealth the lowest denominator and how far we can sink as a species.

  6. says

    #6 weylguy:

    I have absolutely no beef with Taylor Swift or her selection by Time.

    She’s responsible for getting tens of thousands of people registered to vote.

    And that makes MAGA cry, which is always an objectively Good Thing™.

  7. wzrd1 says

    John Morales @ 7, I was thinking precisely of the Sentinelese when reading PZ’s account. Yeah, that contact likely wouldn’t have ended well.
    Still, there have been worse contacts. There were documented cases of isolated populations in the Amazon being contacted and subsequently contracting illnesses from the contact team that they had absolutely no immunity to.

  8. StevoR says

    @ ^ wzrd1 & 7. John Morales : Google Earth shows a surprisngly detailed no doubt just satellite view of North Sentinel island.,92.25060212,45.04143904a,536.81229951d,35y,0h,0t,0r/data=ChEaDwoJL20vMDR0anpfGAEgAToDCgEw

    Youcans ee what looks like individual tree canopies, even probable tracks as wellas beaches, reefs / rock platforms and more.

    I wonder if that breaches the wishes of the Sentinalese and what they’d make of it if they knew about which obvs they won’t..

    I also fear what’s going to happen to them with sea level rise since it looks ;pretty flat.

  9. brightmoon says

    I just checked out North Sentinel Island on Google maps. Cool!
    That ( former) missionary was a pure D idiot .( To use an old fashioned expression from my great grandparents time)