When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro

Paul Raven @ 25-11-2010

Things are getting real weird real fast. Did you hear about the Germans who insisted on the right to “opt out” of Google Street View and have their houses pixelated? Well, now they’re being targetted by pro-Google activism that consists of drive-by egg-raids and labels stuck to letterboxes proclaiming that “Google’s cool” [via TechDirt].

Double-U. Tee. Eff?

For the record, I think the folk opting out of Street View are misguided, and the egg-raiders are idiots; no advocacy in this post, I assure you. But think a moment on the high weirdness of this situation, about the mad wild flux of global culture that has made it possible. Just a decade ago, this would have been a gonzo near-future sf plot that any sane editor would have bounced for being charmingly implausible…

I’m sure this is the part where I’m supposed to wonder “how did we get here from there?”, but that’s the weirdest thing of all – I know exactly how we got here from there, because I’ve made a point of watching it unfold like a card-sharp’s prestidigitation, but I still can’t quite tell how the trick was done: it’s hopeful and baffling and wonderful and insane and terrifying all at once.

And things are likely to get weirder as the times get tougherI’m starting to think Brenda may have a point; the Singularity’s already started, it just doesn’t look anything like the shiny transcendent technotopia we thought it would be. Which shouldn’t be surprising, really… but it still is.

[ * And a posthumous hat-tip to the late Doctor Gonzo for the headline, who I resolutely believe would be taking a similar horrified joy – or perhaps a joyous horror, if there’s a difference – in the headlines of the moment. We’ve bought the ticket; now we’re taking the ride. ]


Cleaning up for Street View

Paul Raven @ 15-03-2010

Google Street View camera arrayThe city of Windsor in Ontario, Canada has apparently requested Google reshoot some of its Street View footage in order to remove a murder scene (complete with Do Not Cross police tape barriers and bloody bandages) from the public record, prompting Mike Masnick of TechDirt to wonder

[… whether] towns and cities are going to start to “prepare” for Google Street View cars coming through and make sure that everyone is on their best behavior

Seems pretty likely, doesn’t it? [image by sfmine79]

The threat of being seen without one’s “make-up” on has always been around. For instance, I can still remember the way every school I ever attended spent a week gussying the place up and drilling the students in advance of the government inspectors, which was probably one of my earliest cognitive dissonance awakenings – what was the point of inspections if they only occurred after a metaphorical wash’n’brush-up? Why not just, y’know, improve things generally rather than making a last-minute effort once a year*?

This feeds into the idealistic notion that ubiquitous transparency is a good thing, I suppose: if every city (or school, or whatever) knew it could be inspected (or Street View’d) at any time without warning, then perhaps they’d be more likely to fix problems at the root cause instead of sweeping the problems under the rug before the visitors arrive.

Of course, that’s a massive oversimplification of a very complex issue, but the Windsor story is a harbinger of institutional panics yet to come; much as technology could enable nation-states to turn themselves into panopticons, the spotlight can also be pointed in the other direction. The next few decades will be all about the struggle between individuals and corporate or geo-political entities to filter and control their realities as presented to the rest of the world… which is why I’m fairly convinced that augmented reality will be the multi-planar battlefield of manifold and fractal ideological struggles between citizens, states and corporations.

[ * The answer is very obvious now, of course, with the benefit of experience (and the cynicism toward institutions and bureaucracy that it engenders), but for a naive and nerdy seven year old, it was a baffling condundrum. Pity my poor parents attempting to explain these moral grey areas and fundamental societal flaws to a child with no better an instinctive or empathetic grasp of human nature than the Borg… ]