Everyday Ghosts of the Real

Curator's Note


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.
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It is simply amazing how one application can give you all this shocking information. Like the speaker said, this application can give you information in seconds or minutes compared to what a writer could write in pages and pages of writing. The technology introduced here reminds me of the short film our class watched called “Prometeus: The Media Revolution,” by Casaleggio Associati. Although this short has a hauntingly accurate and maybe extreme vision of technology’s rapid growth, I see a parallel in the type of technology he predicts with the technology we are inventing today. He predicts that soon all information will become digital and that the world will become paperless. Does this not sound like what is going on with this revolutionary idea with Google Earth?

Catherine Summerhayes PhD. Lecturer in Film Studies and New Media Arts Australian National University

thanks Easor, you are right about how Google Earth is probably at the fore-front of how we will be using digital technologies to document our world even more than we are now.  It is still pretty clumsy, but I think the Darfur installment is only the beginning

I definitely agree with you because at the rate our world is progressing not only socially but technologically, we will be forced in a sense to use this type of technology to transmit this type of information. I am curious to know if Google has launched any projects similar to this or if they are planning on doing something similar to this in another form. 

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