Thursday, January 05, 2006

I Can See My House from Here!

NEWS FLASH! I just have to say something about Amazon's truly engrossing new virtual yellow pages, which rivals only my beloved Google Earth for its uncannily photorealistic virtual reality experience of the lived urban environment.

Unlike the Google God's eye perspective, the Amazon yellow pages (which are currently only available for U.S. cities) bring you to particular frontages and buildings as if you were walking by on the other side of the street. There is something addictive about taking virtual walks for virtual blocks with a Mapquest map to orient you. How soon before we spend all our time in our faux neighborhoods taking walks to our virtual banks, public libraries, or grocery stores? How long before another click brings us to their online services, which may soon have virtual tellers, librarians, and checkers to serve us? Certainly for those of us counting on the extra calorie-burning of inefficiently actually going places on foot . . . and even getting lost on the way, we may need to take even more SmallSteps to avoid obesity.

The way that corporate interests have created these nifty online tools for surveiling public space may require more reflection and consensus-building. There are real cars and real people photographed and presented in the Amazon Yellow Pages, obviously without their consent. Certainly some businesses have no photos or show only depopulated parking lot views, as I noticed from a survey of Southland locations of the strip club chain Spearmint Rhino. But maybe I don't want people to see my car in front of Minority AIDS Project Anonymous Testing or see me opening the door of the Beverly Hills Non Surgical Abortion Clinic either.

Furthermore, as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has pointed out in "That Seventies Show," certain political institutions can still opt out of this world of webcams. For example, the residence of Vice President Cheney was scrambled on Google Earth for security reasons. Luckily you can still have an Internet tour of the Vice President's residence led by amateur historian and defender of "Judeo-Christian" values, Lynn Cheney.

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