Google street view versus the thrill of discovery

By Sydney Stokoe

Once upon a time, before dash mounted GPS, before the advent of Map Quest and Google Maps, before the Internet, travelling to a new place had an extra adventure attached to it. How were you going to get there? What would it be like? It was mysterious. It was exciting. It evoked all sorts of memories of childhood road trips, of too many siblings rocking down a highway in Dad’s old Buick, of the time you got lost and asked directions from that really hot guy. We can say goodbye to those days of unexpected adventures. The information age tells us everything we need to know about a place, long before we get there.

Google Maps has launched its street view feature in select Canadian cities, including Calgary. While the service has been available in the U.S. for some time, it just now comes north of the border. Street view allows the user to zoom into a 360-degree high-resolution photo of the area in question. Photos are taken from street level, so the image is essentially what one would see walking down the street. Image quality is high enough that one can make out good detail of surrounding features, but faces and license plates are blurred to maintain some privacy for the people appearing in the photos. Users can move up and down the street, from photo to photo, as if they were really traveling through Calgary. The service was launched in Canada last week, though the pictures used in the maps are already months old.

It was laundry day when the Google car drove past my house with its cameras. Judging by the clothes hanging on the line, I could tell you which of my roommates had done their washing that day. I could tell you that our sunflowers were dead, and that the fence needed painting and . . . wait a minute, why would the Internet need to know that?

Is it really necessary for Internet users to know what every nook and cranny of Calgary looks like? This is not to say that the photos of my home are an invasion of privacy, as far as privacy goes there are much worse things to worry about. Living in a sizable city our movements are captured far more often than any of us care to know. A few pictures of my house really aren’t that big an issue.

It’s more the superfluous nature of the operation that I take issue with. Where is the need for this? We got from place to place just fine without street view, so there is no reason why we can’t continue to live our lives without it. The amount of time, money and resources being thrown at this project is ridiculous, considering its application. Maps are outdated before even being posted online. Our city changes so quickly that the street photos taken a few months ago no longer accurately represent the cityscape. Taking into consideration how much time it takes to shoot every street in the city, photos won’t be updated fast enough to keep the maps relevant.

For now, friends will point excitedly at images of their past and present houses, but the novelty will wear off, the lackadaisical masses can only be entertained for so long. This is one technological “advancement” that hasn’t advanced us in any way. Street view hasn’t improved the way I live my life, but hey, I like a little adventure.

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