Meanwhile, Back in the Real World…

In the era of social media shoutouts and tweetstorms, we all spend our lives with one foot in the real world, one foot in the tech world. One maker wants to use technology to bring us back to reality, by getting robots to carve globes out of wood.

three-dimensional wooden relief carving of North America

Antarctic moment

Once, Mark Jeffery was travelling across an ice field in Antarctica, when he was struck by a feeling: “This is my home planet.”

As part of a career that has always straddled the tech world and the real world, Jeffery was working as a meteorologist for the British Antarctic Survey, posted for two years on the Antarctic Peninsula nursing high-tech weather instruments through the punishing winters.

“It was close to midwinter,” says Jeffery, “but there was enough light in the sky to see the peaks and glaciers to the east, the frozen sea littered with icebergs to the west.”

Since that day, he has tried to recapture that feeling: “This is where I live, this planet is my home.”

High-tech robots meet old-fashioned craftsmanship

Many years later, in the mountain town of Rossland in the Canadian Rockies, Jeffery has found a way. By programming a robot to carve pieces out of wood, he’s making three-dimensional globes. Unlike traditional globes, made by painting a map of the world on flat pieces of paper and pasting them to a sphere, Jeffery’s globes will be carved right into the wood.

“The continents will rise from the oceans and the mountains from the plains in three dimensions,” he says. “You’ll be able to feel the texture of our planet.”

It’ll take a combination of high-tech robots and old-fashioned craftsmanship to make these globes. The pieces of the globe will be machine-carved from computer models, drawing on Jeffery’s background in physics and programming, but they’ll be hand-finished. “I like the variety,” he says. “Sometimes I’m working through the three-dimensional geometry in my head, other times I’m working with my hands to sand, wax and assemble the pieces into a globe.”

Back to reality

The tensions between the real world and the tech world are a constant theme in our lives.

“We’re so enthralled by new technologies that we sometimes forget the virtues of the old,” says Jeffery. He admits to being old-fashioned in some ways: as well as messaging his friends, for example, he sends them letters written with a fountain pen on paper. “Receiving something real in the post is a different experience from getting an alert on your phone.”

It’s the same with globes. They go back at least 2,000 years to ancient Greece, where the philosopher Crates of Mallus, reasoning that the world must be round, created the earliest known globe. Wood goes back even further, and was probably the first material used for construction by our ancestors.

These days, zooming out on Google Maps shows the world as a sphere that you can spin on your screen as if it were three-dimensional. Jeffery insists that this is no substitute for a real globe. “Seeing a map on your screen is not the same as holding a globe in your hands. I’d like to use technology to tempt us away from our screens and bring ourselves back to the real world.”

Do you need a globe in your life?

Combining the oldest material with the newest technology has helped Jeffery recapture that feeling he had in Antarctica. “There’s nothing like running your fingers along the coastlines of the continents and over the peaks of the mountains to remind you of where we live,” he says.

He launched the goodwoodglobes crowdfunding campaign on Tuesday, February 5th, to help fund the wood-caving robot he needs to get his globes into people’s hands.

“I think everyone needs a globe in their life,” he says, “to inspire that feeling that this planet is our home.”

three-dimensional wooden relief carving of Antarctica
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