Sorry to disappoint you, but indeed, the world maps do not represent the reality of our Earth, whether in terms of distances from one point to another or even in terms of the surface area of countries. So, if you really want to see reality, the best solution is to observe a terrestrial globe.
We will agree, the map is much more practical than the globe, if only for transport and land use. However, and this is the great dilemma of cartographers, representing the spherical Earth on a flat surface is not easy. Different cartographers have made many projections, all of which have their share of compromises. Let it be said, a map will always deform certain points of the globe that are projected onto it.
The Vox site has produced a very interesting explanatory video (visible at the end of the article), especially for newcomers to the subject. The example that was taken is that of the Mercator projection, famous simply because it is the most used map, whether in schools, in books and even on Google Maps!
When Gerardus Mercator drew up his map of the world in 1569, he wanted to keep the directions, quite simply because this world map was designed to be used for navigation. When we draw a straight line connecting two points located on either side of an ocean, we realize that when we transpose this path on a globe, it is not the most direct. However, this route will be the safest in terms of steering, especially if one navigates (as at the time) with a compass and that was indeed the goal.
If this map retains the angles and therefore the shapes of the continents, it distorts the distances and areas. Thus, starting from the Equator and heading towards the poles (South and North), the deformations are more and more pronounced (see below). The most striking example is the following: on the Mercator map, Greenland and Africa appear to be of similar size, but in reality, Africa is 14 times larger than Greenland. Incredible isn’t it?
According to recent critics, the Mercator map would have prevailed until today for geopolitical reasons. Indeed, the Northern Hemisphere where the former colonial powers are present is very advantageously distorted in comparison to the countries of the South which seem largely smaller. In short, it is a biased representation of the world intended to preserve imperialism and domination.
Without being perfect, the projection that allows us to better understand the reality of the world is that of Gall-Peters (20th century) which tries to take into account the real size of the continents. This, also called « equivalent projection », allows a better comparison of the areas of continents and states.
However, neither the Mercator projection nor the Gall-Peters projection have been used by cartographers for about 30 years. Indeed since 1988, the National Geographic Society has adopted the projection of Winkel Tripel, because it offers a satisfactory balance between sizes and shapes.
Here is the explanatory video published by Vox:
Sources: Slate – France TV Info