Monday, March 5, 2018

The Was of 1s and 0s

Today I was thinking idly, and a little indulgently, about an impossibility. What if there were Google Street View images of the past? You could select a year and virtually stroll down the street of your childhood house, the 1s and 0s and intrepid Google cam-car filling in all of the blanks in your memory. You'd be startled by the puniness of the trees and shrubs and by the low-scale development, the behemoth size of the gas-guzzling cars, the blocks of favorite stores long-abandoned, or fields and forests leveled for today's homes, condos, strip malls.

Then I learned that this has happened, in a limited way, and that I was, again, lost in the solipsism of generation bias. Four years ago, Google opened its archives back to 2007, gathering "historical imagery from past Street View collections" to create a "digital time capsule of the world." I think it's very cool that, if, say, a half century from now people will still be able to archive Street Views of the 'hoods from their past, have a kind of digitized, click-by-click home movie, the audience of which will vary dramatically from spectator to spectator, from this neighbor to that neighbor, from this kid who grew up on the block to that one who lived there for just that one summer.

The force of the awakening of details long forgotten might be overwhelming—most of us lose to memory the vividness of childhood and adolescent backgrounds, the specifics replaced with recreations, some streets elongated, some shortened—and I'm not sure I'd want to actually access the past this way. But this is the new normal: future generations will have the means of visually exploring every inch of their past in ways that earlier generations could only imagine. But because nostalgia means the overwhelming desire to return home, it's always worth reminding myself that that home is redefined with every passing day. It probably means more as recollected than as was.


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