Through Google’s Looking Glass

This column originally appeared in Brooklyn Paper on June 9. 2007

Last week, Google added a new feature to its mapping service: Street View. Now, not only can you search for an address and see it on a map, but also see the place you’ve searched for and its surroundings up close and personal. Almost too personal, in an Orwellian type of way. If Big Brother had Street View in “1984,” he would never have had to leave the house.

Immediately after launch, the online zeitgeist was bursting with two cries: 1) “This is great thing!” 2) “This a great … invasion of privacy!”

An Oakland resident told the New York Times she was freaked out to see her cat captured in one of the still photos. She worries that the next step is could be pictures of her bookshelf.

Google’s Lars Rasmussen says that Street View is not an invasion of privacy since all photos used for the project were taken in public places. Despite some folks’ conniptions, an entire subculture around Street View popped up literally overnight. One site,, is dedicated to some of the silly, saucy and scary images captured by the project’s photo vans. That got us thinking: are there sunbathers, giant pumpkins, crimes in progress or something that looks like E.T. in the photos snapped of Brooklyn Heights?

The first thing you notice when trolling the virtual streets is that people sure love to double park in our neighborhood. On the days the photos were taken, countless delivery trucks, vans and civilian vehicles congested the area. A Street View jaunt down Remsen Street turns up two gents in what appear to be matching khaki jackets who may or may not be the street’s famous “Goggle Brothers.”

While it may take days, weeks or months for us to really find something juicy in this vision of Brooklyn Heights preserved in time like a bug in amber, many natives who have since moved out of the area are using Street View as a way to take a virtual trip down memory lane.

“I went home again yesterday,” Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlon wrote recently.

“Who says you can’t go there? I started at the corner of Hicks Street and Grace Court — my home stickball field street in Brooklyn Heights more than 60 years ago. On my left, were brownstones dating to the mid-19th century, now renovated into seven-figure townhouses.”

And while the Grace Court of Conlon’s youth will soon be made over into condos, it will forever be preserved in cyberspace via Street View. Maybe that’s worth giving up your cat’s right to privacy for, after all.

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