Author and former ‘Jeopardy!’ winner Ken Jennings spoke Tuesday at UCF about how maps do and should fit into everyday life.
“For the first time in history, the actions of people across the world can affect your lives in a very practical way on a day-to-day basis,” said Jennings. This shrinking-world outlook provided the basis of his presentation, “Mapping Our Place in the World.”
The event, which drew more than 200 people, was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office as part of its 2013-2014 theme, “What is Global Is Local.”
Jennings noted that Americans often have negative associations with maps, using them only when lost. Since the 1970s, he said, geography classes have been replaced with social studies, which places a growing emphasis on non-state organizations, such as the United Nations or religious groups. Jennings stressed that this growing geographic illiteracy can lead to broader social problems. He asked the audience, “How can we appropriately respond to crisis in Syria if we cannot find it on a map?”
Jennings is the author of “Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks.” The book provides a tour of the world and insight into ‘map culture’ and history. Jennings linked his fascination with maps to his success on the game show ‘Jeopardy!’.
Intricate details, like those found on maps, are easy to remember as long as there is an interest in the subject, he said. Jennings tied his interest to the ability of maps to give us a new perspective on our own surroundings.
A member of the audience asked if Jennings felt the same way about galactic mapping as he did for more worldly maps. Jennings replied that he did not, because he felt less able to project himself into the Andromeda galaxy, for example, than for some Earthly location. For Jennings, the ability to actually visit a place on a map, or envision himself there, is what drove his interest.
Another person referenced Jennings’ famous ‘Jeopardy!’ battle with an IBM question-answering machine. When asked what it was like playing against a computer instead of human contestants, Jennings answered, “The machine was too fast; you cannot be faster than the machine, even if you know more answers than it does. I just never realized that what essentially makes us feel human are the things that we know.” He encouraged the audience to always pursue what interested them, to never stop learning.
In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors for the presentation included the UCF Diplomacy Program, the UCF Middle Eastern Studies Program, the UCF China-Taiwan Cross-Strait Program, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, the UCF Isle of Man Small Countries Program, the UCF Political Science Department, UCF LIFE, the Chastang Charitable Foundation, UCF Book Festival 2014 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center and the Global Connections Foundation.