google’s earth

Landscape by Myfanwy Tristram
“Landscape with Stamps” Draft, Myfanwy Tristram.

In which I ask: why does my imagination have a map fetish?

The Convivial Society: Vol. 2, No. 17 :

..technological change not only transforms the texture of everyday life, it also alters the architecture and furniture of our mental spaces.. technologies of communication shape how we come to understand both the world and the self. They shape our perception, they supply root metaphors and symbols, they alter the way we experience our senses, they generate social hierarchies of value, and they structure how we remember..

Pretty standard tech critique phenomenology.. nothing standard about the implications though. Aside from historical implications, like technology probably being the most potent casual factor of modernity, each of us should (I think) be ever vigilant for how this cashes out in our own internal lives. Treating yourself like a computer is probably the most prevalent form. But while Postman,

would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet, the mechanical clock, the printing press, and television (to which we must now add the internet, the newsfeed, the smartphone camera etc.)

I think the same caveat might now be said about a basic self understanding, “Know Thyself” is more and more shaping up to practically meaning “Know the Technological History of Modernity‘, which is to say “Know the technologies which created the self you are and how you are being continually accelerated toward another yet-undefined and perhaps deleterious version of that self”.

Anyway, enough theory. But it’s context for my being struck recently by how dominated my internal “mental spaces” seem to be by the satellite-eye view. This shows up strongest with future-projection, especially w/r/t the search for meaningful community: would a life in that city doing that activity be fulfilling? could a life rooted here in this region be fulfilling? should I try to study in that foreign city? But with all these ponderings my mind was representing them in spacial, and explicitly cartographic, image reels—my imagination was completely in thrall to them.

So I’m imagining the different places which would make up a life and they’re showing up as google-earth-viewed journeys and travels. That’s my imagination’s overwhelming default perspective for contemplation for future living. But life itself is NEVER lived from the pov. of a satellite image! Abstract technocratic journeys are planned from this disembodied heaven-seated perspective, but no human living actually occurs from it—unless, I guess, you’re an astronaut with binoculars on the IIS.

Now, the value of any future-projection of this kind can be debated. I personally don’t think it’s of much value, life itself (relationships, places, jobs, new hobbies) is never what we think it up as being beforehand. Yet, whatever size role our imagination plays in our decision-making, it plays some role and so such daydreaming is, in however small a fashion, effecting our future.

And it struck me when I clocked what my internal architecture was up to—how my perception of the future was being shaped by the way my imagination was structuring itself—that because this perspective is completely alienated from any lived human experiences1 never mind ones which might lend a life meaning, that its completely distorted, impoverished, alienating.

“The East Yorkshire Landscape”, David Hockney.

Humans have always experienced the world from an immanent human-scale vista, right?2 Journeys are imagined through landmarks seen from a roadside perspective. We’re walking to those mountains on the horizon, we’re going along the river and round that hill; imagining our earthly pilgrimage was to imagine activities rooted to the earth, from spots our eyes could potentially function from. And I was going to say this is how future me would perceive and experience life in his future city…

But perhaps my imagination’s map-fetish is a bit of a canary in the coal mine? Are we more and more living as alienated unrooted souls who move about in a world which we more and more actually perceive from the technologically-endowed perspective of gods. A kind of Google-enabled Mt. Olympus phenomenology. The bleeding of the metaverse into flesh-and-blood reality?

The ‘simple’ technology of digital maps and their use for even hyper-local route planning changing how our internal faculties experience and interpret our senses. Maybe it’s Google’s earth now, we just live on it.

What’s the impact on how we perceive community? travel? architecture? nature?

The world becomes so much smaller, impoverished, when the imagined journey between two towns, or to the capital and back, or to pick the kids from school, becomes not a mental map of landmarks, homesteads, trees, hills, graveyards, churches etc. but.. well.. nothing because the new perspective (when you’re inhabiting it) completely negates that type of movement-through-space.

Given that these experiences of place are as-yet-un-experienced, in a map-less mind would there just be nothing to imagine? Perhaps the new tech-enabled knowledge is the only knowledge my imagination has on what it’s attempting to imagine?

But I do think a type of levelling is happening here, as the tech-enabled future-projection perspective bleeds into our current actualised living. The same sort of levelling the Machine is already accomplishing, from the outside-in, with centralised highways.

But I’m just late to the party, right? Welcome to modern rootlessness and levelling! Your canary died a century ago. Perhaps this is just my own personal discovery of the reality of Borge’s perfect map and its technological implications, of how now, “it is.. the map that precedes the territory — precession of simulacra — that engenders the territory.. today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map”. The process pushed along far enough that it’s now part of my inner furniture, integrated into the architecture. But then why do I perceive it as alien and unwanted?

I still remember how the first digital technology my family downloaded on the day the broadband connection went live was Google Earth, all 800Mb of, huge it was.

What’s up with the map metaphor, what is the nature of its hold on human perception? It seems to have a unique ability to shape and stimulate perception, and how it did so for J.W. Dunne (a wartime pilot and dream-theorist who influenced Borges—among others) links it with the nature of time and dreams.

  1. Unless you’re a pilot (see below)? But even then, this internal pov is beyond even bird’s-eye, squarely in the satellite lens stratosphere. And maybe that’s an important distinction.
  2. Or does the potential place in culture for psychedelics mess with that?