A map projection is any method used in cartography to represent the two-dimensional curved surface of the earth or other body on a plane. The term "projection" here refers to any function defined on the earth's surface and with values on the plane, and not necessarily a geometric projection.
Flat maps could not exist without map projections, because a sphere cannot be laid flat over a plane without distortions. One can see this mathematically as a consequence of Gauss's Theorema Egregium. Flat maps can be more useful than globes in many situations: they are more compact and easier to store; they readily accommodate an enormous range of scales; they are viewed easily on computer displays; they can facilitate measuring properties of the terrain being mapped; they can show larger portions of the earth's surface at once; and they are cheaper to produce and transport. These useful traits of flat maps motivate the development of map projections.