March 10, 2010

The Geography of Minor Vices

“I prefer an interesting vice to a virtue that bores” - Jean-Baptiste Poquelin aka Molière

Everyone has a vice and, seemingly, everyone enjoys hearing about the vices of others. So today's map focuses on a comparison of a trio of minor vices that are in common use around the world, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Granted references to these keywords that show up in user generated placemarks may have less to do with vice and more with production, but so be it.

At the global level it is clear that much of the world makes more references to alcohol than either of the other two. But there are some very interesting exceptions. The top ten global producers of tobacco are China, India, Brazil, USA, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Italy, Greece, Malawi, Pakistan and Argentina, and each of these countries show a sizeable number of placemarks referencing tobacco.

This is particularly significant for countries such as China, Zimbabwe, Malawi, India and Argentina, which have a relatively small number of placemarks in general.

Sadly for caffeine lovers, it is largely overshadowed by each of the other vices. Perhaps we should try searching for high fructose corn syrup the next time?

Global Map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco

Zooming into the North American region one see that alcohol is also extremely popular (it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation to guns and/or churches). At the same time, however, the main centers for burley and flue cured tobacco production (Kentucky and North Carolina) contain more references to tobacco. Only in a few locations such as Seattle (home of Starbucks) does one see caffeine raising its jittery head above the heaps of tobacco and waves of alcohol sloshing across the nation.

North American Map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco
The European map shows a more complex pattern that is surprising strongly tied to national borders. The U.K. retains is exceptional status vis-à-vis continental Europe with a very mixed pattern and the tobacco producing countries of Italy, Greece and Turkey are well marked with tobacco. The one notable exception to this pattern is the coastal resort regions of Turkey where there are more references to alcohol, perhaps tied to tourism activities.

But the corridor from Spain to Germany reveals a very intriguing replication of national differences within these cyberscapes. France and Germany have almost uniformly more references to tobacco than anything else, while Spain and the Benelux countries have more references to alcohol.

European Map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco
As much as we'd enjoy calling the inhabitants of the Low Countries a bunch of heavy drinkers (hi to our friends in Ghent!) the difference is most likely due to language differences. Alcohol is alcohol in Dutch but alkohol in German and alcool in French. As a result we got more hits on our search term "alcohol" in the Netherlands and Flanders. Equally intriguing is the cluster within France in the Poitou-Charentes region where there are more references to alcohol as well. Perhaps this is due to a local linguistic practice? We don't know but would be curious to find out. Obviously requiring a bit of fieldwork!

In any case, this map with its clear demarcation of many national borders reinforces yet again that the social and cultural practices of the Internet are still very much tied to places.


  1. Thanks so much for your findings, but I pray that the consumptin of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco competely vanished before the return of Jesus Christ. I may you please specifically show Uganda's position as far as the production and consumption of such drugs is concerned.

  2. Go figure I live in Wisconsin and this would definitely represent why we are considered a drunk state!!!!

  3. I find it suprising that there aren't more caffiene-dominated areas in the US. Most people I know consume way more caffience than they do alcohol. (That I can see, at least!)

  4. When did caffeine become a vice? To answer Lyn, who wondered why caffeine didn't show up more in the US, I think its because purchasing caffeine is relatively straight-forward; on the other hand, there are so many different types/brands of alcohol that it is natural for people to do an internet search on that topic. And to John Paul Paddy... dude, seriously?

  5. As a caffeine addict myself, never underestimate the viceiness of a coke or cup of coffee when consumed in large amounts!

  6. I would also argue that rather than searching for caffeine search for coffee. That's what you normally would search for if you want your caffeine high.