The earth is flat and square

People know that this is not true, but mostly ignore variability when making sense of a space, and remember things as more symmetrical, simpler, and more geometric than they are.

In the real world, this means that people grossly overestimate the steepness of slopes, or the depths of canyons relative to their widths. People also find the paths and the lengths of intercontinental flights are hard to predict, or even believe once they’ve heard them. How many of us can honestly say that the flight path from California to Paris makes any intuitive sense?

In the digital world, people have a hard time integrating complexity that they intellectually know exists when they’re using sites or making decisions. They might explain their mental model about the relationship between two areas of a site in a nuanced way (like they could explain the globe), but their actions won’t always take that into account.


Golledge, Reginald G. “The Nature of Geographic Knowledge.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 92, no. 1, 2002, pp. 1–14.

Our cognitive tendency is to make irregular shapes regular and standardize varied orientations. p 8