Taking it to the Street

AxisPortals has spent many happy moments–and a few  bittersweet ones– using Google Maps’  “Street View” to stroll down memory lane. 

The irony of using high tech to indulge in flights of nostalgia isn’t lost on AxisPortals, but the plain fact of the matter is that the internet offers nostalgic satisfactions at every turn:  you can watch favorite television programs from  your youth, track down vintage toy ads, collect all of your old Halco and Collegeville costumes on eBay, and find images of all sorts of places, things, and people that have long since disappeared from your life. 

Street view offers one such trip into the past–a virtual visit to the far flung hometown that the viewer hasn’t set foot in for many years, for instance; conversely, it delivers a fairly up to date look at the place in question.  This is why the experience can be so bittersweet.  Places once much loved might be painfully changed, crumbling, abandoned, or simply gone.

AxisPortals uses street view  fairly innocently–to capture, for instance, images of a fondly remembered but long defunct neighborhood grocery store’s still striking architecture.

Street view  is also great for viewing parts of the world you’ve never visited, previewing a vacation spot, seeing what the building you’ll soon be navigating to in a strange city looks like and so forth.

Unfortunately, a stroll through street view is never entirely innocent, for it inherently involves big brotherish surveillance that has some folks concerned about their privacy.  After all, it’s not really possible to offer a copy of the whole world (eventually!) in virtual 3-D without occasionally recording a few things people don’t want seen (cars parked in forbidden places,  moments of unguarded back yard sunbathing, etc.) .  Even those with nothing in particular to hide might start to feel invaded if they spend much time pondering the idea that it’s brilliantly, terribly easy for anyone–anyone at all sitting at any computer at all located anywhere in the world at all–to walk down their streets, turning and gazing down driveways  or into  yards at will as the neighborhood dogs sleep on, oblivious and barkless.

So far, this technology involves only still images, so this isn’t quite like having a video camera constantly trained on your home or business so that a virtual walkthrough would always be in real time, but it’s not hard to imagine the next step, is it?

AxisPortals doesn’t intend to stop using the street view feature of Google Maps anytime soon. However, there’s significant tension here. 

Technology is a blessing; privacy is sacred.

Privacy is sacred; technology is a curse.

Can we preserve and protect the best of  both our technology and our privacy?  Can we honor them simultaneously? 

AxisPortals suggests taking a virtual stroll down the sidewalks of your neighborhood while you think about it.

AxisPortals Aphorism One:  Technological advances often outstrip our ability to deal with their ethical implications. 

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