Okay okay, so it’s been awhile since I’ve checked out Google Maps. The last time I did anything resembling this kind of exploration was a few years ago when I did a cursory check of Google Earth and visited the usual hangouts. You know, like typing in “Titanic,” getting zoomed around, flying into the ocean, and seeing a few nice photos of the great sunken ship.
When I went back to check out Google Maps, I was shocked. First of all, the revolution of street view seems to have happened without my noticing. What is this strange new world? High-definition reality displayed for all to see. Who needs to travel? Now everything is revealed with an address and a click. Although one of my friends, a locations director for film, had shared with me that he uses street view for his work, I hadn’t understood the magnitude and depth of the technology.
I have entered a real world video game.
I immediately went back to view the houses I grew up in, my old schools, my old apartment in New York City, and my best friends newly bought home. All displayed in shockingly high definition.
And here, yet again the issue looms: privacy. Someone is caught on the camera. While their face may be ruefully smudged out, Google Maps exposes the question of our right to our own image. Does it belong to us? To the photographer? Although we’re taking in the sites from “street view” (and these views are therefore public), I felt like a peeping Tomasina. This is legal? Staring into people’s homes? Although I couldn’t exactly walk down the driveway, I felt as if I had been given magic binoculars to peer into a secret life halfway around the world.
Having just checked out Second Life (a virtual online world created by users), I couldn’t help but be startled by the eerie similarity between my experiences. In both worlds my computer screen is a portal to a new world; one in which we can fly through space, go wherever we want, and explore the limits of a digitally enhanced virtual world. Although Second Life is programmed rather than captured by photographs, they both seem to be caught in a grey world between real and unreal.
What will be next, I wonder. Video enhancement? Real-time interaction with other people using Google Maps – or – god forbid – with the residents of the buildings we are perusing? Maybe checking in through google maps virtually will become our next way of paying house calls. Just walk in and click to ring the doorbell.
Photo: Screenshot of a capture of a street view of BC Place.