June 29, 2017

"An Agoraphobic Photographer’s Virtual Travels, on Google Street View."

Ha ha. I love these — in The New Yorker — screen grabs from Google street view.
After a while, [Jacqui Kenny, a New Zealander living in London] began seeking out certain kinds of views: arid regions with clear horizons; latitudes where she found that the sunlight fell at a dramatic slant....

Kenny now posts photos from the collection on an Instagram account called Agoraphobic Traveller.... Kenny, who is friendly and witty in conversation, suffers from anxiety that, on a bad day, can make it difficult to leave the house.... Kenny—who doesn’t consider herself a real photographer but clearly has a very particular eye—is drawn to stark landscapes and orderly arrangements: the straight lines of a road receding into the distance; a tree in perfect butterfly symmetry with its shadow; identical boxy houses sitting in neat rows.... The scenes are simultaneously revealing and distancing—as if you’re peering into people’s daily lives through a telescope....
I've done the same thing myself. I started the tag "Google grab" back in 2011. I can see that I was planning to do it a lot, but I mostly only did the first one, which convinced me it was an exciting idea:

Juarez street corner

Or I guess I did it twice. Why didn't I keep going?

It is cool to wander around in Google street view, and — agoraphobic or not — it could be better than actually going places, because I think you will go to different places when you don't have to worry about your health and safety or with needing to interact with people and feeling that you might be intruding. And when you travel, you're likely to go to the famous scenic places, but there's no point in looking at those on Google maps, because there are many better photographs of these things already on line.

This topic could fit as one more chapter in the book I'm reading right now: "How to Talk About Places You've Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel," by Pierre Bayard:
There is actually nothing to show that traveling is the best way to discover a town or a country you do not know. Everything points to the contrary— and the experience of numerous writers supports this— if you want to be able to talk about a place, the best thing to do is stay at home....

[T]he question is not what we can gain from a knowledge of foreign places— acquaintance with which can only be beneficial to anyone with an open mind— it is to know whether this acquaintance should take place directly or whether it isn’t wiser to practice it through means other than physical travel.

26 comments:

JRoberts said...

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here - in my basement office.

Unknown said...

If you think Google Street View is great - you should try it with VR. I got a Google Daydream free with my phone last fall and absolutely fell in love with doing street view in VR. I've been fortunate to travel a lot over the past few years and the Google Street View (done with a backpack) of Macchu Picchu and the Roman Colosseum let you feel like you are standing right there looking around. It's magic.

Michael K said...

"The question is not what we can gain from a knowledge of foreign places— acquaintance with which can only be beneficial to anyone with an open mind"

When you do virtual travel, you see only what the provider sees and wants you to see.

Real travel allows you to see with your own eyes and not necessarily what others see.

You also make friends and have experiences you would never have otherwise.

Like sitting in Westminster Abbey on Remembrance Day. Or attending the Lord Mayor's Show.

Or meeting a Soviet vascular surgeon who had read one of your papers. His wife had stayed in Moscow and I did not have the heart to ask him if that was her choice.

Life is not a spectator sport.

CJinPA said...

James Lileks does a Main Street Then & Now feature using Google Street View. Pretty cool, along with the rest of his site.

http://lileks.com/urban/mainstreets/index.html

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I guess at some point along the continuum we have to stop thinking in terms of "agoraphobia" and start thinking in terms of preference.

Nonapod said...

You can find some interesting stuff looking through Google Earth satellite view. I like finding weird things like island in a lake in an island in a lake.

madAsHell said...

I guess our Hostess is trying to moderate the comments with the subject matter......

sodal ye said...

I travel as immersively as possible, for years at a time. Two things I would miss most in a VR substitution are the food and the sex.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Geoguesser.com is a fun way to pass some time and can be educational too. Street views of places all over the world. You get ported to a location, can travel around the area. Pick up clues from street signs, building styles, terrain, the people in the background...and then you guess where they are on a map and see how close your guess are.

You can also choose to narrow the game a bit by selecting only US locations. Selecting famous places.

Etienne said...

I can't figure out what this girl is selling.

Wait a minute, what's that on her dashboard ?

alan markus said...

I spend way too much time on Google Streetview. There is an image of me sitting in my car waiting for my daughter after school (I saw the Google car so I knew to watch for it); a neighbor sitting in traffic at a stoplight, my brother-in-law working on his truck in his driveway, and my brother & his family waiting at a crosswalk near their house (they also noted the Google car - that was why they were waiting to cross the street).

I also "cruise" residential neighborhoods (especially California) looking for the occasional classic car sitting in someone's driveway or side yard.

One shot I wish I had saved was some city in New Jersey - middle of the day, rough area, rough people, and there was the cutest white, blonde, teenage girl in cutoff shorts & top walking down the sidewalk on crutches.

Darrell said...

Wonderful. You can travel the world and not run into Inga and Once.

Etienne said...

Eating with your left hand is gauche.

So here's a mural of a girl eating gauche in Provence.

ConradBibby said...

I had an interesting experience recently: After looking at the house in which my mother grew up on Streetview, I later "remembered" having actually visited there. In other words, the experience of visiting the neighborhood online somehow got implanted in my mind as a memory of actually going there. It only took a moment or two for me to realize that I hadn't ACTUALLY visited there, but I find it fascinating to find that I had tricked myself in this way.

Static Ping said...

My moment on Google Maps was in front of the house that I eventually bought, talking with my realtor and home inspector. Unlike some other examples here, I had no idea that the Google car was there and only found out after I moved in. Very cool.

Google Maps does find some "interesting" activity from time to time, like people running around with guns or committing crimes or having sex.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Give this game a try-- it's fun! It drops you off in a random street view somewhere in the world, and you try to guess where you are. It scores you on how close your guess is. You can move around to get clues, read street signs, etc. It's addictive.

LordSomber said...

Being a geography geek, I love playing Geoguessr.
You have to analyze every thing you can see to determine location -- terrain, flora, signage, architecture, etc.

Great game.

Bryant said...

Some of the most interesting google street view photos can be found here:

http://9-eyes.com/

It is a site by Jon Rafman.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

I enjoy the street views to revisit places I have been . It is fun to see people sitting on the park bench I once sat on in Topolobampo down in Sinaloa or to glide down a side street in Zona Rosa Managua or a dirt road on the edge of town. It would not be satisfying to me in the least to use it as a means of "travel" because it isn't and can't be.

Nice for people afraid to fly, however, and for people who are afraid to travel where there are brown people.

Ann Althouse said...

"It is a site by Jon Rafman."

I have a post about him from 2012. Click my Google grab tag to find it.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ha! My youngest son and I puttered around Greenland using Google last weekend.

buwaya said...

The best way to know a foreign place is to live there, to know the language, and try get things done in that environment.

Being a tourist is not terribly useful, unless you really dive in, as in dealing with the locals on a level beyond that of cashiers, tour guides and taxi drivers.

southcentralpa said...

Certainly better to have the residents of Detroit menace you from their porch through the proxy of the Google van than in person. Getting a gun pointed at you by some random dude in Detroit ... all fun and games until he pulls the trigger.

Lance said...

+1 for geoguessr.

C Stanley said...

Two Google earth activities I've enjoyed:
1. Several years ago a "Painting a Day" site posted a random street view for inspiration.
2, In my genealogical research, as soon as I verify a town of origin of an ancestor I do a virtual visit.