Electronic Wonders of the World, I

My daughter is going to Nice this summer on a school trip. When we got the address where she would be staying, I — of course — looked it up in Street View on Google Maps. There I am, nine thousand kilometers away, virtually walking along the street where she is going to be staying. It’s a block away from a palm-tree-lined promenade by the water. I can see the restaurants where she might eat and the stores she might shop at.

I’ve looked up the house in Wales where my mother lived, to see whether the new owners have done any major repainting or landscaping yet. It makes me feel like a stalker, but it is irresistible.

In a more benign vein: inspired by my reading of Northern European mysteries, I looked up some locations in Sweden, Norway, and Finland so that I could get a sense of what it was like to be there.

I’ve virtually travelled the world in recent months with Street View (and yes, that word “virtually” has taken on a new, specific shade of meaning).

When I perform one of these electronic acts that has only become available in recent years, I’m strangely affected by the experience. It is so unlikely, almost miraculous. Yes, I know in my head that the technology is available, but each time there is an impact beyond what I expected. Unlike many other things that get so described, this deserves to be called both weird and wonderful.


Were you ready for Street View?


Now that the Google car has been to our neighbourhood, we can — almost — see our house on Google Street View. For some reason, the view switches over half a block when you get to our cross street. But all these little glitches will get worked out eventually.

The whole thing is sort of cool and sort of worrying at the same time. Fortunately, our provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis, is on it.

My daughter and her friends have been captured walking down a nearby road,  their faces obscured; our car has been spotted, with the licence plate ditto. But people are clearly identifiable to their friends and families: it takes more than blurring features to make people unrecognizable. I am taking a wait and see approach before I decide whether I like it or hate it.

I know that I really like the sentiments expressed by letter writer Roger Barany in the weekend Vancouver Sun:

How was I supposed to know Google’s sneaky street crew would come unannounced to sweep my block, snap my filthy car sitting outside my residence and post the image on its planet-wide social mapping site? When picture day is coming, can’t they send an advance note, the way my kid’s school does, so I can jazz up my crate a bit? When’s retake day?