There’s where I was born, still fairly recognisable. And there’s where we moved to when I was about nine. And here’s where we are now. I expect my car is parked along the road somewhere but I can’t be bothered to persuade the cumbersome navigational apparatus to take me down there to check it out.
Google Street View is settling in at the moment. Once the privacy fusspots calm down we can look at our houses for the rest of our lives. That they will calm down is not guaranteed but given what Google knows it’s pretty inevitable. Google knows that we know there’s something wrong about Street View but we can’t quite put our finger on it. This vague unease is more than compensated for by the vague feeling that there’s something right about it. On examination, however, the latter sentiment proves to be a bit odd and we shouldn’t let Google know about it or else they’ll invent a camera that looks through curtains.
The trouble is that when you can see your house on Street View you know it’s your house. Without this massive, globalised, external system of ratification you wouldn’t know it was your house. I mean, of course you’d know it was your house because that’s what you wake up in most days of the week. But sometimes it’s very hard to feel that life in the world, and its attendant material accoutrements, is real. I mean, of course it’s real because you can discuss it with friends and you can agree that, more or less, probably more, you are having similar experiences, which tends to validate the proposition unless you are drawn to philosophise.
Anyway, it’s to do with identity. If the world was any good you could look at your house, by standing outside in the street, say, and the experience would be simple: “That’s my house.” This isn’t to do with mortgages or ownership, by the way. If the world was any good you could stand outside your rental accommodation and something simple but important would still just happen. But it doesn’t.
I mean, you see it, you could touch it if you wanted, you know it’s yours, rental or otherwise, but the angle is wrong. As in film or photography: you have to get the right angle. Angles are, however, premised on a divergence of lines or planes from a common point. In this case the common point is oneself and its pointedness has deteriorated. Identity is found wanting. Its criteria have deteriorated.
Hot air balloonists, especially on their first flights, are often taken over their houses in order to look down upon them. Same with light aircraft flying lessons. You can see how you fit into the scheme of things. Very satisfying. It does wear off though. It may be memorable but its significance fades. In this case, however, the angle is ideal. The greater the vertical distance from your house you can get, within reason, the more it is yours. And the more it is yours the more you are. In the scheme of things.
It’s to do with consumerism. We’ve been taught to test reality and our status in it by evaluating the strength of our feeling for inanimate objects. The feelings have to be good feelings, which they will be if there are sufficient objects and these objects take our love without complaint. The stronger those ties the stronger you are. Again, this isn’t to do with ownership so much as getting back what was yours anyway. Because you deserve it.
Street View flattens the world, both literally, as a screen image, and figuratively in the sense that it subsumes it into an arcade game. It is superior to the holiday snap because it permits, or seems to permit, the sensation of being able to engulf an object rather than be engulfed by it. It allows us, in conjunction with Google Earth, to approach the object from above and from the sides and all perspectives in between. In so doing we are simultaneously aware of its location in a scene or a scheme to a far greater degree than the holiday snap allows. The holiday snap, as has been widely noted, has the power to confirm that an experience actually occurred. Unless supported by a physical trace, apparently, the memory of an experience is unreliable. Street View has the power to confirm our parity with the object by dramatising an ideal relationship with it. My place in this world of objects gives me a common point.
My house looks like my house if I go out into the street now. But if I hunt it down on Street View it is a jewel sparkling with heightened houseness. It is seamlessly integrated into the Bayeux Tapestry of the digital arcade. I am a citizen of that arcade. The arcade includes me. It also includes everybody – all the more reason to claim my residency. If, for a moment, I doubt my substance, I can refer to the arcade and it will consolidate, in its virtuality, that which is unsolid.
Another piece of metaphysical electronics that heightens the sensation of being what you already are is GPS. Any mobile phone worth its salt is equipped with a Global Positioning System. Activate it and it will tell where you are wherever you are. It won’t tell you what country or street you are in but it will give you a string of figures that some people, probably not you, can translate, with the aid of maps, into a position. If you had a map you could go from your position to another position. If you had a phone, which you do, you could tell someone else your position. They could rescue you. If you were not in any particular trouble they could say “That sounds like a lovely position.”
GPS, eh? Nobody needs it. Apart from explorers and the imminent lost. The latter may suspect they are about to become lost as a result of having developed weak relationships with objects.