Google’s Street View program as part of Google Earth has been one of those strange pieces of technology that you love to use and love to hate. I’ve spent more time looking at streets around the world on Street View than probably any other digital program. But I’ve also flinched when I found my own street and the camera practically looking into open windows. It also doesn’t hesitate to show exactly where you live so anyone who wants to find you can more than identify your home.
While this and the Street View captures of people walking along busy streets have led to legal complaints, Google wants everyone to realize there’s more value to Street View than finding addresses. Now they’re offering a virtual time machine that lets you have a chance to see current street views and what they looked like back to 2007.
Yes, going back to 2007 seems like going back a week ago for some of us. Regardless, it’s the best Google can do considering Street View only started then. This doesn’t mean you can’t see a mountain of change in just seven short years. They let you see certain locations that were just empty lots then and now hold monumental structures today. Even your own house has probably changed somewhat in seven years, and there could be some pangs of nostalgia for a time that isn’t very distant.
What about years prior to 2007? It’s time like this when you wish technology like Google Street View and Twitter were around 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Had we had those things then, we would have understood the world a lot better than we ever did. Then again, perhaps imagination was better for us to help build more positive perceptions about reality. You can especially say that about reading very open thoughts on Twitter from notable people.
The thought of a time machine is already one of the most coveted fantasy items every human on planet earth wishes they had. Other than involuntary memory, there isn’t anything vivid enough to give us a feeling of being in a time or place through a sense of virtual reality. If Google can take us back to 2007 and give us a sense of time and place, what about creating a virtual environment showing what was on street corners year earlier?
Google Earth’s Virtual Graphics
If you’ve ever been on Google Earth, you know that Google has essentially filled in things that don’t translate well through satellite imagery. This mostly includes structures, and especially skyscrapers that look flattened when looking on them from a sky view. What would happen if Google ever decided to create a virtual time machine where we’d see what a street corner looked like from an era long ago?
Six years ago, Google offered a tool showing virtual landscapes of what the ancient world looked like. If we know that much about building the ancient world, why not reconstruct our major cities to show people how vastly different they looked 100 years ago? Some people have managed to create before and after composites online that show specific street corners from the turn of the 20th century next to what it looks like today. You wouldn’t even know they were the same street unless told.
No doubt Google has something like what I’m describing in the works. Outside of using a real time machine that would theoretically destroy the space-time continuum (and likely ourselves), having a vivid virtual environment to explore history would be one of the greatest Google web inventions. When we know the buildings and people that made up familiar street corners of the world, we can put the world in a bigger perspective than we already have with Google Earth.