Media Theory for the 21st Century

February 26, 2008

Google Earth or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the View of My Neighbor’s Pool

Filed under: Discussion — tjdanner @ 4:11 pm
Tags: , , , , ,


Considering the Cctv World Wide Watch and certain moments in the Fuller reading, I have been thinking about the unparalleled panoptic possibilities that have developed over the past decade.  The Cctv project, as Fuller points out, is more a suggestion of surveillance than a functional representation of Foucauldean panopticism: “the feeds wear the crappiness of their imaging as a part of their seaminess” (141).  The attenuated functionality doesn’t entirely negate the potential for, shall we say, “autopoliceis” (it’s late) of Bunting’s site–crime prevention is certainly possible.  Thus, if we are looking toward the internet as a reconceptualization of the Panopticon, we might say that the central column has room on every virtual floor for pairs of observing eyes.  But even if a group of global neighborhood watchdogs, taking turns, were to keep watch over Cctv‘s feeds in a continuous cycle, innumerable crimes would go unreported, and even reported ones would go unsolved: none of Minority Report’s pre-cogs here.  In Fuller’s terms, as he paraphrases Mirzoeff, “there is no all-seeing specter implied by the physical architecture” (146) of Cctv.  There are only nodes; perceived contiguity of observation is a prerequisite for preventive psychology.

That said, the controlling cultural paranoia–or Fuller’s “generalized chilling” (“the effect of knowing that surveillance is going on” (146))–endemic of a post-9/11 America in which government transparency seems to be diminishing has recently surfaced in several innovations by Google: Maps, Earth, and Street View, for example.  I’m sure most of you have both played around with the visualization mechanisms of these programs–googling images of one’s house, for example–and read about the controversies they have sparked.  Given Google’s increasing ubiquity and round-the-clock development of more comprehensive (/invasive, some say) satellite and digital image-based technologies, its programs have far eclipsed a site like Cctv as a potential surveillance machine.  I will try to relate some of these technologies–and some of the user-created hacks that augment their capabilities–to some of the theories about media ecologies that Fuller describes.  Considering the apparatus-as-plaything model that Flusser proposes, it’s easy to perceive the non-panoptic, more ludic, functions that Google Earth encompasses in addition to its well-documented potential for privacy invasion.  If you would like to play around with some of the functions I’ll be discussing in class, you can download Earth (most of you probably have, but here’s the link anyway:; and here are some links to user-created downloads, or hacks, that you may find entertaining:  In a nod to Bunting’s project, I’ll also look at a couple webcam sites such as EarthCam ( ).  If you navigate these links, you may want to think about a few of the issues I intend to explore:  Which “types of surveillance” that Fuller discusses in Chapter 4 do they represent?  What are the relationships between paranoia-inducing (or -resulting) surveillance functionality and entertainment/diversion-based plaything functionality?  As a concept, “media ecology” seems to carry with it, like “will to power,” a sense of non-exclusionary comprehensiveness, that the interaction of any two media constitutes a media ecology; what are the specific medial-ecological dynamics of Google Earth, webcam sites, etc.?


Create a free website or blog at