As digital representations become the predominant imagery that shapes our routine experiences and understanding of the environments around us, our capacity to influence, edit, reject, or undermine the objectivity and apparent immutability of the depiction is critical. Delineating and giving names to edges like the frontier of Google Los Angeles, or appropriating the humorless sobriety of Google Earth’s renderings of Africa on the moon, opens a discussion around the embedded assumptions for all simulations and representations that might appear on our screens. It isn’t so much that, as a place, Google Los Angeles is less legitimate or real than the County of Los Angeles or the lunar landing site in Google Sudan. Google Earth collapses the distinction between geopolitical or historical boundaries and the user’s own contrivances.
The resolutions and fidelities that Google Earth favors and neglects point to the mutability of all maps, models, territories, borders, and frontiers. The spaces that dictate the encounter, whether engineered by Google, Apple, Microsoft, governments, or militaries, or open-source communities, rely on certain concessions from the user: for instance, that political borders and place names are as real as coastlines and mountain ranges. But geobrowsers and mapping applications provide interfaces, authoring tools, and means of distribution with a certain amount of influence that was previously unattainable. Who says that Apollo 11 didn’t land in Google Africa? Can’t you read a map?
Images: Google Earth (Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Image Landsat, LDEO-Columbia, NSF, NOAA)