Google Earth: Pyongyang; the Lorain County Jail

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Creator: Izzie Levinson

Date Created: March 16, 2017

Location: Google Earth via 2015 Macbook Pro, my bedroom (230 N. Main St., Oberlin, OH)

Name of Document: Google Earth screenshots of Pyongyang, North Korea, and the Lorain Correctional Institute, Ohio, US

Context: These are screenshots of footage I collected while browsing Google Earth as part of my research into corporate and data surveillance. I found these images fascinating because I found that they poked holes in the seemingly perfect virtual universe created by the Google mapping system is fundamentally flawed: it can only render three dimensional “street views” of cities its cars can actually drive through. In this way, the Google Earth images are inherently politicized, as the world’s most turbulent places can only be documented from far above — an abstract form of surveillance, perhaps, but inherently unable to accomplish its stated aim (i.e., to simulate “flying” around the world). I found it complex and fascinating that Google Earth boasts views of Mars, the Moon, and the Grand Canyon, and still cannot allow the layperson access to politically inaccessible locations, ranging from North Korea to local prisons, the Gaza Strip, the Texas-Mexico border, and Aleppo, Syria.

Potential Relevance for the Future: As Google Earth becomes more universal and technology shifts more towards virtual reality, it will be increasingly important to scrutinize and be aware of the limited lenses we are quite literally given by the corporation’s allowed scope. In this way, we must push ourselves to supplement their documentation with our own.

Other relevant headings: Google, street view, surveillance, politics, Pyongyang, North Korea, Google Earth, prisons, Aleppo, Israel-Palestine conflict, US-Mexico border conflict, war

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