Location Not Found

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As a digital ghost town, the outdated Yelp pages for Paradise (as seen online) are the equivalent of boarded-up windows in abandoned storefronts with the lights left on. What makes looking at the former version of Paradise online feel transgressive (voyeuristic or recreational) is the fact that it hasn’t been properly updated to reflect its current status. Roland Barthes explains in Mythologies that images which shock are horrifying because we are electively looking at them from a safe distance, looking outward from “inside our freedom.” Street View, of course, is not an “interior view,” yet the images of fire-damaged and gutted abodes feels wholly invasive — semi-permanent and digital fodder for desk-bound looky-loos, “outside” and “in public” and therefore invaded by our view. A ghost town hangs onto traces of life for a distanced but recreational experience, but images of ruins feel more akin to incidental snapshots; Street View and the Cal Fire images let us look with nose pressed to the screen as private voyeurs.

A Life in Google Maps

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Inside Google Maps, we still live together. It’s July 2012 here; my car is parked in the driveway. One of your ham radio antennae peeks over the roof. The trees are in full leaf, so I can’t see the windows; are the lights on? Am I inside? It’s overcast, but the sun seems high; maybe I’m walking the dog, but I don’t see us. Probably I’m at my desk. Possibly I am on the floor crying for reasons I don’t even understand. It is five months until I leave.

You’re at work. Inside Google Maps, it’s July 2008 at your lab. I can’t zoom in close enough to see your bike in the vestibule, but I know you’re there. It’s overcast here too, one mile and four years away; maybe they’re the same clouds. Maybe they never parted. We aren’t married yet, here at the lab, though we will be soon.

In truth, inside Google Maps it will never be “now” anywhere. The most trafficked streets of the most traversed cities might be re-sampled every year or two, but even there it is at best this afternoon, this morning, yesterday. More likely it’s last month, last year, two years ago. You can travel back in time, on these popular streets, rolling the clock back to the panoptic camera’s previous run—but you won’t see the time in between. At my first New York apartment, it is 2014, and 2013, and 2011, and 2009, and 2007 . . . but it is never 2012.

Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism

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The iPhone app told her that walking instead of driving would burn 70 calories. While it was perhaps meant as an incentive to walk, those with eating disorders might instead fixate on the number, a dangerous mind-set that counselors try to minimize, she said… Some users were especially upset that the app used mini cupcakes to put the burned calories into perspective, framing food as a reward for exercise, or exercise as a prerequisite for food.

Are GPS Apps Messing With Our Brains?

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We’re becoming navigational idiots. The problem isn’t GPS itself. The Global Positioning System, which uses a constellation of satellites to determine one’s location on the globe, is just a way of fixing points on a map. Rather, the problem is how smartphone apps such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze display our routes. Because these apps seek primarily to direct us efficiently from A to B, their default presentation is a landscape somewhere between minimalist and impoverished—typically a fat colored line (your route) running through a largely featureless void. Mappers call this goal-oriented perspective” egocentric.” It’s all about you.

Paper maps, by contrast, use an “allocentric” presentation—one that forces you to plan and frame your route within a meaningful context: towns, forts, universities, parks, and natural features named for local heroes and history (such as Lake Champlain and Smugglers’ Notch in my home state of Vermont), distinctive shapes (Camel’s Hump), or local flora and fauna. (The Winooski River, which flows through my town, gets its name from the Abenaki word for the wild onion that grows on its banks.) Such maps bear a rough but essential resemblance to the mental map locals carry in their heads.

…The distinction between these two wayfinding modes interests not just mapmakers, but neuroscientists, for each draws upon a distinctive neural network to understand space and move us through it. Your phone’s default egocentric (or “cue-based”) mode is the domain of the caudate nucleus, a looping, snake-shaped structure that is heavily involved in movement and closely tied to areas of the brain that respond to simple rewards.

Navigating by map—often called a cognitive mapping strategy because it builds and draws on the map in your head—primarily uses the hippocampus, an area in the center of the brain crucial to spatial memory, autobiographical memory, and our ability to ponder the future.

While most of us favor one or the other of these navigational strategies, both are required; lose either and you’ll soon lose your way.


Google Maps is putting Europe’s human-traffickers out of business

europe refugee migrant crisis

Excerpt from this article, via @whatleydude:

Unlike previous crises, however, refugees aren’t making the journey blind. Smartphones are ubiquitous among the crowds, aid workers say — empowering migrants to make smarter decisions and transforming the way that aid is delivered to them.

Srba Jovanovic, an aid worker for a coalition of charities in Serbia called Refugee Aid Serbia, told Business Insider that nearly every young male refugee he sees has one. The devices provide a lifeline for people to their families and friends — apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype are all widely used, and they allow them to avoid the prohibitively high costs of making traditional phone calls across borders.

Google Maps is another very popular app. It means refugees are able to make their own way like never before, without having to rely on the high prices and often horrendous conditions offered by people-traffickers. Foreign-currency-conversion calculators are another popular choice, helping people to avoid getting ripped off as they cross borders and currency areas.

Where will maps lead the travellers of tomorrow?


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Imagine a machine that could transport you from one side of the world to the other at the press of a button. One minute, you’re wandering amid the stupas of Borobudur, Java; the next, you’re exploring a grotto in Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine; later still, you’re following giant tortoises along a volcanic ridge in the Galapagos Islands. I haven’t been to any of these places. But thanks to that magical machine – not one, come to think of it, but several: on my desk at work, in the study at home, in the pocket of my jeans even – I know they’re all just a moment away.

For that, I salute the ever-increasing richness of Street View, the offshoot of Google Maps that allows you to parachute Pegman – the little yellow icon in the corner of the map – into panoramic photos of the real world.

For many people, Street View, virtual reality, and whatever technology builds on or supplants them, will provide the impetus for adventure. No question about it. But is it too fanciful to suggest that it might also signal the start of a different trend: the ‘traveller’ who, for reasons ranging from lack of opportunity to outright apathy, explores the world through technology alone.


The Ghosts in Our Machines

A friend calls unexpected connections with lost loved ones “winks,” and finding Google Maps photos of my mother felt like a wink of monumental proportions.

Excerpt from this poignant article in The New Yorker, where the writer describes spotting an image of his deceased mother on Google Street View:

Every now and again, when I’ve been working for too many hours without a break or have spent an entire day writing something, I jump on Google Maps Street View and get lost in my past.

The images on Street View, taken by fancy cameras that are usually—though not always—strapped to the tops of cars, are a boon for basement-dwelling architecture buffs and those who want to see the world without going broke. I use the site for far less cosmopolitan purposes. I track down baseball diamonds and bike trails I played on as a kid. I locate comic-book shops from back in the day, old college dorms, hotels my family stayed in during summer vacations back when we took summer vacations as a family. I plop down in places I’ve been, places that have meant something to me, and look around. Then I compare the contemporary to what’s in my memory. It’s a way to unwind, a respite from more taxing laptop-based endeavors.

At first I was convinced that it couldn’t be her, that I was just seeing things. When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her.

That feeling passed quickly. Because it was her. In the photo, my mom is wearing a pair of black slacks and a floral-print blouse. Her hair is exactly as I always remember it. She’s carrying what appears to be a small grocery bag.

The confluence of emotions, when I registered what I was looking at, was unlike anything I had ever experienced—something akin to the simultaneous rush of a million overlapping feelings. There was joy, certainly—“Mom! I found you! Can you believe it?”—but also deep, deep sadness. There was heartbreak and hurt, curiosity and wonder, and everything, seemingly, in between.