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In the following paragraph, Edward Tufte speaks of "flatlands of paper." I don't understand its meaning:

Even though we navigate daily through a perceptual world of three dimensions and reason occasionally about higher dimensional arena with mathematical ease, the world portrayed on our information displays is caught up in the two-dimensionality of the flatlands of paper and video screen

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It is a reference to Edwin Abbott's classic satirical novella Flatland. Tufte is saying although we live a real, three-dimensional world, we get most of our information in artificial, two-dimensional representations: paper and on-screen.

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  • I don't remember whether he credits Abbott, but Carl Sagan also made this term famous in an episode (#10) of the original Cosmos. The flatlander's (2D people) encounter w/ 3D objects is used to parallel a 3D person's possible perspective on 4D space. – goldilocks Nov 17 '14 at 19:41
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    @goldilocks, "Let's imagine that we are perfectly flat. I mean, absolutely flat and that we live, appropriately enough, in Flatland a land designed and named by Edwin Abbott, a Shakespearean scholar who lived in Victorian England." So, yes, although describing Abbott as a "Shakespearean scholar" seems as reductive as describing a man who survived until 1926 as "living in Victorian England" (The good Queen herself died in 1901.) – Malvolio Nov 17 '14 at 20:59
  • @goldilocks, but Sagan may have had in mind Hal Clement's S-F classic Mission of Gravity, where we encounter natives of a Jovian planet who live in an almost 2 dimensional world because the high gravity allows little movement in the 3rd dimension. – Greg Lee Dec 16 '15 at 4:33
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"flatland" - a region in which the land is predominantly flat —usually used in plural

"flatlands of paper" - a metaphor for books, newspapers and written information in general.

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    why the downvote? – Centaurus Nov 17 '14 at 11:49
  • It's not my downvote, but it's probably because your answer is wrong -- it is, as Malvolio suggests, a reference to Abbott's book. – Charles Nov 17 '14 at 18:02
  • @Charles - evidence? Other than Malvolio's assertion? For that matter, even if it's a reference to Flatland, "flatland" itself is a more general term and someone could understand the metaphor without any knowledge of Abbott's (or Tufte's) work. – GalacticCowboy Nov 17 '14 at 18:46
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    @GalacticCowboy: It's pretty evident from the original quote, if you've read the book. But I don't feel obliged to defend someone else's downvote, I was just explaining. Apparently the 16 people who voted for Malvolio's answer felt similarly. – Charles Nov 17 '14 at 19:01
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    @Charles, This is a good answer and a useful addition to Malvolio's sparse answer. Afterall, the book title referenced has a context that is both literal and figuative with many rich associations. Since I come from the flatlands of my country, I am quite aware of the way this term can be used derisively of a place (& its flatlander inhabitants) to mean dull and lifeless, i.e. flat in the figurative sense. – user227547 May 1 '17 at 16:39

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