This clip, a fairly long one (7.29), is from YouTube and therefore of less than optimum quality, but the use of YouTube itself here is another interesting aspect of the main issue I want to bring to your attention, and that is the business of embodiment in the new digital platform of Google Earth. In this clip, the Holocaust Museum spokesman is introducing the Museum’s collaboration (2007) with Google Earth to present a complex, multi-layered ‘document’ of the massacres, massive displacement of people and the destruction of villages occurring in Darfur.
Firstly, though, a note on YouTube: whilst this program is being studied extensively as a site for the dialectic of the actively participating consumer, it is not as often thought of as a search engine. And yet this is what most of us who do not channel, use it for. Given that Google Earth is in its very early stages of enabling export of tours and sites, YouTube becomes, once again, an invaluable tool for locating how people are using Google Earth to create texts of documentary value such as ‘Crisis in Darfur’. The clip clearly explains how and why Google Earth has been used, and for those interested, install Google Earth (free!) and locate Africa. You will easily see the area signified as ‘Crisis in Darfur’. Alternatively you can search Google Earth for ‘Crisis in Darfur’. Either way, you will have access to stories, photographs, statistics, and videos that are laid over/embedded in a topography of destruction. Some icons introduce us to higher resolution shots of the earth, zooming across landscapes of burnt villages and tent cities.
These ‘close ups’ strongly emphasise a challenge that we need to confront more and more in our globally constructed perception of the world - one that we experience whenever we look out a plane window. The challenge is how to embody our vision of the world at a distance with the people and stories that populate this world. In Sherry Turkle’s words: ‘We are witnessing a new form of sociality in which the isolation of our physical bodies does not indicate our state of connectedness but may be its precondition.’ (2006) Such a ‘new form of sociality’ suggests that we must once again deal with the collision of indexicality, re-introduced by surveillance platforms such as Google Earth, and the subjective states of real people: us the viewers and those we connect with in virtual space. In this sense, the site ‘Crisis in Darfur’, brought to you by Google Earth represents an earth haunted by real people.