Maybe you noticed the little line of text on the Google home page on Monday: ““. Yes, the future is here and the outdoors are now virtual.
I first read about this new technology in a newspaper article a few months ago, showcasing the backpack with 15 cameras mounted on top linked to a series of hard drives and GPS units (all of it being, apparently, quite heavy) that allows a hiker to bring Google’s Street View technology out on the trail. A few months if image clean-up later, and now the product has been unveiled for all to see.
When you think about it, it’s really perfect for today’s culture. Why go somewhere when you can just sit behind your computer and scroll through any place on Earth you’d like to go? No booking plane tickets or renting cars, nor reserving hotel rooms and campsites. Now it’ll even be available for on the trail; you don’t need to get into any kind of shape or go to the trouble of scheduling one of the pack mule trips down into the Canyon. Heck, you don’t even need to get up from your easy chair, stop pounding that bag of Doritos or put down that beer. The trail is just a click away.
Okay, I’m jesting. Like so many technologies, though, I’m of two minds about this. Are there potential advantages to this that I’m not opposed to? Sure. Maybe it’s a good way to scout in advance a trail you’re unsure if you have the skills to tackle. Certainly it has the potential to open up views of nature that, due to reasons such as physical disabilities or age, many would otherwise be unable to obtain.
At the same time, I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and hiked partially into it. Having looked at the images on Google’s site, I can tell you this: there is simply no way, and no screen big enough (sorry, 55-inch plasma owners) that the images can even begin to convey the immensity of actually being down inside the Canyon itself.
I think “being there” is important, and I can’t help but to see this technology as one more step down the path of people not perusing “being there,” using it as a replacement for the real thing. It reminds me of my Mom, who will often pull one of her favorite movies off the shelf and say she’s “taking a trip to Greece” which, of course, she’s not. I’d much prefer if my parents booked tickets and went and saw the real Greece. I mean, I love watching “Lord of the Rings”, but being in New Zealand, even at some of the same shooting locations, is a far different, more rewarding, more immersive experience than watching the DVDs.
So I see it as part of a troublesome trend. The trend that led to me meeting relatively few U.S. travelers outside of the country. The one that’s taken us from multi-day holidays to mere weekenders. The one that’s led to tour busses in the Grand Canyon stopping at scenic viewpoints so that people can take pictures for 10 minutes and say they’ve “been there”. The trend that leads people in Yellowstone to never leave the road and the visitor centers, taking in all-to-brief views and buying DVDs of the scenery to watch back home.
And while I fully acknowledge that those trends have other influences as well (such as the economy, longer working hours, etc.), I wonder if options such as Street View don’t subconsciously compel people to be less demanding of being able to have the time for those experiences. Somewhere, in the back of your mind, you know you can always download it.
Of course, it’s all optional: you don’t have to click on Street View, you can always go wherever you want to go. Maybe the additional options are a good thing: just because it isn’t the one for me doesn’t necessarily make it bad.
What do you think? Should every trail be put online as an easily clickable path? Please comment below!