Quoted from Jorge Luis Borges
A map is only useful as a representation, which necessarily involves a distortion of reality. Google Earth threatens this idea by purporting to represent reality with a new degree of accuracy and comprehensiveness, and yet we cannot escape the old problems. Instead, these problems are magnified through the illusion of objectivity and accuracy which Google Earth promises to deliver.
Issues of supposed interactivity and user-based generated content complicate this issue, but as Farman admits, these tools, allowing for a new degree of freedom, are also controlled and regulated by Google. Not only this, but even the choices made by individuals reflect ideologically and politically-based biases, so even if democratizing the creation of maps eliminates or at least mitigates the centrality of power for the mapmaker, it could never eliminate the inherent subjectivity of mapmaking itself.
Instead, by attempting to create such a map of perfection, Google Earth’s supposed potential for subversion is even more dangerous than the old, less accurate maps. Maps continue to create boundaries, rather than represent them, but with an even greater degree of power and influence due to the illusion of objectivity within Google Earth.
This is a postmodern issue because here the distribution of power is not one-sided (as in a user watching a TV), and neither is the direction reversed (the TV is watching you), but now neither the source of power nor its direction is clear. Agency is no longer known or definite. For Farman, this is a positive thing, but if we wish to continue this postmodern critique (which I believe I have been lifting from Jameson, but I can’t be sure), we could argue that by using technology in order to extend the potential of maps to their absolute limit, Google Earth is even more deceptive than traditional maps. The more a representation resembles its original, the easier the viewer is fooled by its supposed authenticity. Google Earth takes this logic and adds with it the possibility of collaboration and interactivity, thereby ensuring that with this controlled potential for subversion, the user will be even more fooled by its illusion of objectivity. At this point, Foucault’s panopticon no longer bears any relevance, as the source and directionality of agency is lost or obscured, legitimizing Google Earth even further.
This is a pessimistic view of the function of Google Earth, but it fits into the Jameson and Baudrillard postmodern critique to which Farman alludes. Instead, he arrives at a more positive view of the functionality of Google Earth, recognizing its limitations but nonetheless embracing the certain degree of subversion somehow allowed by its creators. While I would like to agree with Farman, who begins to recognize these issues but doesn’t quite see them through, it would be foolish to ignore how easily Google Earth fits into this critique.