Do you know where this is?
After passing the “KEEP OFF MEDIA(N)” signs on Shattuck Avenue on that hazy November morning, I rode to downtown Berkeley, where a few other signs caught my eye. Actually I was trying not to let signs catch my eye, since, like most other people on the road (I’m assuming), I was going somewhere and my head was filled with other thoughts—what was going to be happening in the afternoon and at dinnertime for Thanksgiving? Who would be there? How am I going to get all my work done by the end of the semester when the holidays are starting? Should I have brought my computer?
The signs of the urban landscape—those that are written, and those even more subtle that bear the traces of the histories, peoples, ideologies that have formed them—are what we move through, more than what we move to. They are easily forgotten by those who know them, and disappear from awareness even when we’re looking right at them.
Do you know where this is, for example?
|From Thanksgiving Ride 2008|
You may have seen it before, but have you ever looked at it? Do the flowing letters of the “E-Z Stop”, fixed by the “DELI” in caps, and the white neon on red background, evoke the 1950s for you, like they do for me? And when did the Cal flag go up? Who does it speak to? Is the owner a Bears fan? Or do university students usually spurn this deli, situated on University Avenue, right between the flows of people going up from BART, buses, and restaurants up to the UC campus, and others down from these same places to Berkeley High School? Why not a BHS flag? Or a U.S. flag, for that matter?
What else can be ‘read’ from the front of the E-Z Stop Deli? If you have ever passed by, have you noticed the small neon sign in the window, the steaming cup that I guess means coffee? Have you ever noticed the reflection of the marquee with all the names of the movies playing at the theater across the street? Do you think the man and woman with cups in hand, walking on the sidewalk, will notice? What might they be thinking, anyway? Where are they going, and why aren’t they walking together? Is one of those cars theirs? And why didn’t they buy their coffees at the E-Z Stop?
If you were one of those people, or if you were the owner of the deli, or even if you aren’t, then you might be feeling a little nervous by now. What right do I have to be imposing my own interpretations of this scene, to be talking about it, defining it, framing it in this blog post, fixing it in discourse just like it’s fixed on a map?
Or maybe I’m the only one that’s feeling nervous? You see, I have an ongoing…issue, shall we say, with Google’s popular geoweb service that’s known as Street View. Have you used it before? As advertised, it’s super convenient for “taking virtual walks”, finding parks, restaurants, hotels, and otherwise visiting a place online. It’s a map-overlay of photographic data made by fleets of cars with roof-mounted cameras taking streaming image data in hundreds of cities around the world. In the U.S. there were many privacy concerns raised initially about the individual faces, license plates, and house numbers getting recorded and attached to Google Maps for the perusal of all. A comedy troupe called The Vacationeers even made this very amusing and slightly scary video about Street View gone Big Brother, Orwellian style. But, come a new year (2008, that is) these protestations seem to have faded quite a bit, and now it seems you need to look to more ‘conservative’ places like the UK and Japan (what?!?) to find people actively contesting Google’s right to photograph and publish these street views.
So what’s my beef? After all, many would say, these are all public places, and we’re already accountable for what we do in public anyway, right? What’s the difference between seeing places online, and seeing them in person?
Wellllll….before I try answering that question, let me just ask:
Do you know where this is?