Monday, December 07, 2009

Meston Walk, Part Three

I really enjoy my walks to school. I have already shared something of them through poe-try and photo-graphy. But did you know you can actually take these walks yourself using Google Maps Street View? This is an incredible feature that allows you to drag a little stick man onto blue highlighted areas of the map and get a multi-angled interactive street view.

I'm not presuming you'll care to bother, but if indeed you do so desire you can join me on my walk to school by double clicking your way between the rock walls of Meston Walk or along the cobble stones of College Bounds. You can stop where you please and take your pick of angles from which to view the buildings of King's College. Maybe you've seen this already: It is really quite incredible. But if not, before you try it---a warning:

Before we moved here I checked out several of Aberdeen's street views, and as a result there is still one stretch of road near the beach that has been all but ruined for me because of this previewing experience. Whenever we are there in person now I get a deja vu to when I was on that road "virtually" this summer. It is really quite odd. It is like my present reality is tainted by my previous virtual voyeurism. I have to give my head a shake to re-enter the current moment.

It also sent a surreal shiver up my spine when we were flying into Aberdeen for the first time and I saw that very stretch of road from the plane window, exactly as it looked from satellite photos. In that case the image hitting my eyes was the same but the experience was on a totally different level. It was moving below me. I felt turbulence. Clouds zoomed past the window. We descended. Almost imperceptible waves flowed to the shore. The sound of jet engines was muffled only by popping ears. And there was the surmounting reality of touch down and feet to ground. Where I had previously been straining to imagine the real, here it was hurtling past me at many miles an hour and hitting me like a ton of bricks. The preview hadn't ruined reality so much as been nothing close to it.

I think we all know that pretty instinctively about images and "virtual reality", maybe because most of us (?) can remember a pre-computer time in our lives. But it has struck me these last few months of walking that there is a similar thing going on with automotive transport. We have a van now, and I'm very thankful for it, but there are still many place where I would still simply rather walk. The other night I paused outside the van, put my key in my pocket, and walked 30 minutes there and back in the dark and the rain, simply out of preference! No regrets.

There is something about having to jostle past people on the sidewalk; feeling raindrops as you see them hit puddles; seeing the wind move the trees and then sensing it moments later confront the skin; or noticing a pigeon perched comically beside a man on a park bench and having the luxury to pause and observe.

What is the something? Is it more wholesome; connected; real?

There's this line at the beginning of the movie Crash about how in LA people only ever encounter each other from behind car windows, and so they crash into each other to feel the presence of other people; to know they are not alone. At first I thought it was a really hokey line. I still think that of the crashing part, but not the rest of it.

There is something disconnecting and un-real about experiencing everything through glass--be it the screen or the windshield.

That said, I am not about to become a Luddite. Wouldn't I rather have the option to drive to Edinburgh than be stuck with the radius of wherever my feet (or, more constricting yet, my kid's feet) can take me? Wouldn't I rather be interacting with the lot of you on this fandangled intra-web than not at all? Of course! There is much that is gained from having a vehicle and from having the internet. Communication and accessibility that were not there before. This is good, just so long as it is an enhancement of or supplement to reality rather than a replacement of it. I just wonder if we always realize when we've crossed that line.

So anyway, basically I'm inviting you to join me on my walk to school through the marvel of technology, with the caveat advice that if you ever plan to visit in person you may wish to consider passing on the virtual preview---it just may turn reality into deja vu and radically dislocate your brain. No biggie though.


Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

I spent a month at the beginning of this school year basically off-line. It came when I had just moved into a neighbourhood where I am a few (5, 10, maybe 20) minutes from almost everywhere I ever need to go in Montreal. The combination of suddenly walking everywhere and not going online was... something. I don't know what. but it was very very positive.

It IS more real/connected/whatever. In the same way that it would be more real to walk around barefoot.

It's the way our ancestors experienced the world, and so I think we carry that around with us in all sorts of ways.

Anyways, I loved this post. I'll probably take the walk online now.

Stewart said...

I did it in reverse...the real first and then the virtual. All i got to say is that it's all good. Can't wait to do it again for real in a couple of weeks!

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

oh yeah -Manhattan only gets 6/10? That's too bad. I hoped you might enjoy it more.

Jon Coutts said...

What can I say about Manhattan? Maybe I need to hear what to like about it. Like I said, it was just no Annie Hall or Crimes or Misdemeanors. Those movies would get 8s or 9s from me. This one just wasn't nearing them. But perhaps I need help appreciating it?

"walking barefoot". Yeah, that's true! Ha!

Ugh, I do not want to sound anti-technology or anything. But the point remains, and it seems to me these things can only retain their goodness in their lives if these things are wrestled with.

So I'm going to get off the computer and walk barefoot downstairs and make some toast for me and my kids.

Jon Coutts said...

That's great where you live in Montreal. I think that would be a fantastic place to live. To me that's the eqivalent of moving to Europe, except without the loss of a certain Canadiana. I'm so pleased for you, it must be awesome!

Colin Toffelmire said...

I'm with you all the way Jon. There is a real connection that happens when we walk the streets of our town. Real community and not virtual community. Like you I've got nothing against virtual community, except that it isn't real community. Put another way, I'd rather you, me, Matt and Stu were sitting around a table in a coffee shop or on a bench in a park having this conversation. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy this format exists as you say, but it's still not the same as the real thing. Same for driving v. walking. It's about connecting.

Stewart said...

well said Colin

Tony Tanti said...

could I skype in on your coffee shop conversation?

Jon Coutts said...

yeah but we'll all be texting our wives half the time so it won't be that great.