Google’s Street Views Getting Existential Slants

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There hasn’t been something this fascinating and disturbing since AOL"s Data Valdez. Google’s Street Views feature on its Maps service raises a lot of questions about privacy, public domain, and humanity itself.

If we think loftily enough, we could say what’s revealed through this feature is another step in the evolution of the Web, or better, the revolution of the Web, where humans are forced to take a good hard, and honest, look at themselves on a level the world just hasn’t been able to before.

Hence all the nervousness. And clashing minds. Coming to grips is never easy.

Yesterday, I reported on the Thong Girl (a little late, it looks like – I’ve been on vacation), which has since been removed from Google Maps. It’s good to know that Google is at least offering those caught in whatever inglorious act to opt out of their surveillance. For a small fee of a slightly bruised dignity.

The street-level camera views have frozen moments in front of adult book stores, of sunbathing, of cats looking out windows, of urination on the street, of a man climbing security scaffolding – locked out of his apartment, we’ll assume. Because it provides a mirror of humanity, catching humans doing human things, it becomes a sort of reality art form.

If you were writing fiction, there are lots of guiding maxims, all of which limit the writer in some way, heightening his art. Nonfiction has a different set of rules, less limiting, and the best maxim for one in the business of making things up is "the truth is no excuse." This means that just because it happened in real life, it doesn’t mean it’s believable.

This makes fiction abstract art because, though intended to capture some slice of human existence, it can’t be too true to reality, and can be inappropriate for examining the hard foundation of gritty existence. Nonfiction – and pictures of humans doing human things – transcends in that way. 

And while we can make a case for the benefits of indexing this slice of the world’s information, it’s most definitely time to push Google, and all of us, to consider if that’s what we really want. Taking a good hard look at yourself, even if healthy in the long run, just plain sucks in the grimy, stunningly honest interim.

You can blame Joe DiPasquale, founder and CEO of CollegeWikis for the preceding digression. He lets Sonia Arrison at TechNewsWorld in on a fascinating (and incredibly academic) concept:

People’s expectations will change. Things will become less shocking; this is the acceleration of the acceptance of humanity.

That’s nice and Pollyanna. It would be great to see that happen – that after coming face to face with itself, after seeing all the laugh lines, the crows’ feet, the scars, the blemishes, the things we try to cover with make up to create a better public face, we understand, know, and like each other better.

That’s a nice fiction I can crawl into and love.

But here’s what’s really going to happen: People are going to be angry and shocked, judgmental of those they see on the street doing things they think are untoward. People will be stoned, figuratively and literally, and the smart ones will learn to pay more attention to their upbringings. The guiding mantra will be "if you wouldn’t want your Mom to see you do it, don’t do it in public." Eventually, people may lose interest in that long, hard look.

What will be really interesting is whether the government steps in on behalf of the public to delay or derail this collective self-examination. The official legal stance on this, which is what reporters (and, unfortunately, the Paparazzo) lean on, is that photos taken in the public domain are fair game – anything you can see outside, you can take a picture of.

And that’s not going to be a pretty Constitutional fight. 

Google’s Street Views Getting Existential Slants
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  • bj


  • Rogue

    There is a site with a large list of Street View Links.


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