Yes, the maps have been lying to us the whole time. The real covered surface of continents is not what it appears to be in standard maps. But, don’t worry, this is not a part of an international conspiracy or anything against Africa or South America, or even far East. It is the price one has to pay to convert a globe shaped object into a different geometry.
Cartography is the study of map projections and using them to create different kinds of maps for variable purposes. Why do we need projections? Only because the real shape of maps require 3-D appearance (globe) that can not be afforded as the maps should be portable and easy to handle. The projections compromise certain features of the map and converts into a particular geometrical shape that can be expanded to a planar form. This planar form is what we see nowadays.
Some planar forms are good with the direction while others are good for the representation of the area and the latitudes and longitudes. The map we see is thus distorted, but in which sense, yes the area of course! It is a cylindrical projection of the globe and such that the areas near the equators are dimensioned correctly. As we move towards the poles, the areas are stretched and so much that the may seem several times larger than their actual covered areas. So, when you look at the world in this map, it would seem that North America is much larger than Africa, which itself seems to be the area of Greenland and Canadian islands. Time to know the truth! Africa is the second largest continent, and only Asia is greater than it.
Africa is so immense that the entire Europe, USA, China, India, and Japan could easily fit inside the monstrous continent. It appears small due to its closeness to Equator while all these countries are quite far away from the central line. Here, take a look at Africa and other countries scaled to the exact area.
But what is the use of the map, if the areas are all wrong. Well, even if areas and distances are off the chart wrong, the direction is general accurate for this kind of map. Alternatively, there is also another kind of map in which area is the more or less the same as reality, but the direction is messed up.
There are numerous problems with Africa like epidemics, poverty, general diseases, etc. that make it appear dangerous as a whole, especially when there is a crisis. Take Ebola, for instance, the deadly disease has been contained in a few countries, but still many people don’t want to travel to any part of Africa in the fear of the disease. Countries like Tanzania and Zimbabwe are hit by travel bans from embassies and their economies, even though, major cities of Europe like Paris and Amsterdam are nearer to the Ebola hit places than these countries. The regain map gives us a new understanding of Africa and the set of problems it poses. The correct size of Sahara and Kalahari desert can be understood too.
There is a debate among cartographers regarding what is the best map for all situations. Well, the simple truth is that no map projection is perfect for all kinds of work. Some are good for navigation while others are useful for understanding and demographic studies. There is no simple answer to this question, but maps are fun aren’t they?