software


Street View is an application from Google which displays a drive-through photographic view of each road. The level of detail captured by the photographic record is comparable to that a passer by might notice. I have used it to explore the streets of my childhood. One wall where we used to play in the street looked so tall to me as a small child – but now it has unaccountably shrunk. The entrance to my primary school looks tiny. I looked to see if the crane flies and spiders webs were still there – phew, I couldn’t see them.

Street View opens up the possibility of a visual history of our lives. Quite often I pass by a demolished site and strive to remember what was there before. With one-in-seven retail sites being closed at any point, it is hard to keep up. Old houses are redeveloped. The visual landscape remains in memories and some old photographs but one cannot find a visual history. I want to rewind to the places that used to exist. Peoples’ lives were shaped by stores like Woolworths and local grocers and bakers and butchers. Mums carrying heavy bags would stop by the Lyons Corner House for a pot of tea and some cake. Dad would pop into the King’s Head for a quick pint and a smoke. These social historical landmarks have disappeared within one lifetime.

The initial British reaction to Street View is typically circumspect. Firstly, there is the Privacy argument that our homes should not appear on the internet for all to see. This is not very convincing from the country with a higher density of CCTV cameras than any place else on earth. There is no law against taking pictures from a public space (unless for criminal purposes). Residents of private roads would have a better claim to privacy. Secondly, there is the argument that burglars would find it easier to case a joint and select their getaway route using their (stolen) laptop. It is difficult to believe that this will lead to much additional crime. If only some our criminals were to adopt such a systematic approach to the rest of their lives, then they may not need to break into houses. The fact is that all new technologies enable criminal activities but these also bring new modes of fighting crime. Mobile phones are used by gangs to communicate – but phone records can be used to show the connections between the suspects and the events. Leaving a trace of a search on a particular address which was burgled could be incriminating.

Those who object to having their property viewable on the internet can request it be removed. Yet this is likely to attract more attention. Why would someone want their property to be blanked out? Perhaps they have something valuable to protect. No doubt there will be a service showing all the places that Google redacted. The fatal flaw with being a white moth in an industrial landscape is that all the predators notice you. Surely it is far better to blend into the anonymity of familiarity. Sensitive commercial or government buildings are often characterised by nondescript architecture without any signage. There is no need to depart from this stratagem.

There are plenty of groups for whom the new visual convenience will be of great benefit. Tourists will explore from afar and know what to expect. Disabled people will anticipate access issues. House hunters save legwork and petrol. Car parkers want to know where looks safe. Parents can see where their children live.

Perhaps in exchange for being allowed global domination, Google should have a Global Service Obligation to archive all systemic public knowledge. Regarding Street View, let’s define some obligtions: where vehicles obscure views, send the photocar again; update each photo regularly; create time-views going back to the earliest records. We want nothing less than the map of the world for modern times.

Australians gave harrowing accounts of how they had survived the recent forest fires which had burned down their homes. They would have to rebuild their lives from scratch. In the emergency, their priorities were clear – to save family, neighbours, pets and animals. What struck me was that several spoke of their regret that they couldn’t save their photographs. Whereas a house could be rebuilt, and animals bred, photographs are irreplaceable. Photographs refresh cherished memories. Without the photographs, many memories would be lost. The memories of loved ones would be dimmed or lost forever.

Photos from the last century are generally on prints. I acquired my first digital camera in 2000. Not only did this make it easier to archive photos on digital storage, it also meant that I took many more photos. Rather than a photograph only being taken on special occasions it meant that all occasions became special. My parents used the famous Kodak Brownie to take pictures on film. We looked forward to when the developed prints would be returned from the chemist in a week or so. Each photo was pored over and discussed. It was the viewing as much as the taking which was special. The sentimental value built up.

Now I have thousands of digital and scanned photos and I struggle to keep them in order. I am therefore pleased with latest version of the Mac photo album software called iPhoto. It lets me classify photos by face in the easiest way imaginable: it suggests names for faces. After a few trials of yes and no, it gets the idea of who’s who and the tagging proceeds smoothly. The photos can also be linked to places. I can revisit a photo itinerary of my life. I enter geographical data manually but even this will be avoided with a GPS camera.

I would not want to lose my photos. I still get worried about whether I have a secure backup. No doubt remote sites like Flickr are of some help. Nor would I want to lose the albums I have created, the photo-histories, the itineraries and the presentations. They are irreplaceable.