Google Maps Street View: Deplorable Exploration

I’ve had reservations about the Google Maps Street View option — similar to Annalee’s objections. But I offer one more: Where’s the sense of adventure? Part of the fun in having a vague idea about where you’re going is that you get the opportunity to explore a neighborhood you don’t know, discovering places, people, and details that you might not otherwise have known about. What of the wandering impulses that Rebecca Solnit has written extensively about? The street corners where one can stand for about an hour and simply listen? The way that one can walk into a bodega and ask a random stranger about the neighborhood? (The latter rhetorical question assumes that the explorer is not a jaded misanthrope.)

It’s bad enough that Google Maps has become the ipso facto reference point to meeting up with someone. Much like Google itself, we willingly abdicate our memory banks to Google Maps, which has all the answers. We follow the directions and, if we’re in a rush, we might immediately forget the street names, little realizing that there might be a history to these streets or an enchanting public place few know about to be found behind a set of doors.

Now with the Street View option, Google has granted us the option of pre-judging a particular neighborhood and it diminishes this sense of mystery. A random snapshot, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the neighborhood at its best or its worst, determines whether one should go out and explore it.

It’s precisely because of these reasons that I’ll be avoiding the Street View option whenever possible. While a picture can certainly reveal visual qualities, it is by no means truly representative of a location’s complexities. And some things in life simply aren’t meant to be discovered exclusively from a laptop.


  1. You make a good point. I feel strangely compelled to defend Google Maps Street View though. I like that it’s an opportunity to do a little more exploring of a place that I might never get to go. I don’t think it’s much different than looking at a photo of a place you’ve never been. Anyone who’s been to a location that they view on Street View knows that it doesn’t really capture the experience of being there, it just gives you a general idea. The quality of the photos makes everywhere look kind of seedy, if you ask me. People who judge areas based on street view alone probably aren’t the type to do much wonder-filled exploration anyway.

    Google Maps is also a starting point for many adventures – it’s often full of crap!

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