Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Shot between the eyes

What have I got in common with a renowned but deceased Zimbabwean lion named Cecil?

Um...Both of us satisfy the epithets of 'noble' (in the animal sense) and 'very mature' (in the getting-on-in-years sense)...what else?...Ah! You've got it. Both of us have been shot on the edge of a National Park. And by Americans using suitable artillery, with all their papers in order, and wads of US dollars to spend.

Cecil's adversary was a well-off dentist from Minnesota named Walter Palmer. Although shooting a defenceless lion seems to be a disgraceful act, the Zimbabwean authorities say nothing illegal took place and he will not be prosecuted. I'm astonished he got away with it, though. Similarly, I was shot within the law, and I'm equally astonished that the perpetrator won't face any censure. And just like the poor lion, I had absolutely no say in the matter. The parallels are uncanny, aren't they?

In only one significant way do the experiences of Cecil and myself differ. Cecil was shot and killed. I was shot and live to tell the tale.

It must be obvious that I'm not actually in intensive care with a severe gunshot wound. I've been shot by Google!

Behold Lucy driving along the B2116 at lunchtime today, a beautiful road that runs east-west beneath the South Downs. She is just passing the Plumpton Agricultural College and the sheep grazing in front of it. And lo! Behold a white car approaching in the opposite direction, with coloured stripes, and on its roof a strange round blue multi-lensed device on a tall pyramidal support!

Yes, I was caught on camera, and will before long appear on Google's Street View.  Look for a large white truck being tailed by a burgundy-coloured ford Focus, a black VW Golf, and, chivvying them all, a dark blue Volvo XC60 (Fiona) driven by myself. I dare say I will be converted into a pixelated blob-behind-the-wheel - Google usually does that - but sometimes they don't. I won't be waving hello, however.

Do I object to a starring role like this? Well, to a certain extent I do, because I wasn't asked if it would be all right if they shot me driving past Plumpton College at that time of day, or even on that day. I had no choice about it. It's the lack of consultation that bothers me a bit.

I was in fact merely driving home, but I might have been engaged in doing something wrong or embarrassing. Similarly for the other vehicles in front of me. We might all have been driving stolen vehicles, or having secret assignations, or just meant to be elsewhere. Google's camera car would now willy-nilly reveal the truth. There might be huge consequences. The fate of nations could hang on it.

You might say - and you'd have a point - that if Google's cameras record (and subsequently publish) the truth, then that's a Very Good Thing Indeed. But how might you feel - should they drive without warning past your home - if your place looked a mess because the windows were only half-repainted? Or the front lawn hadn't yet been mown? Or you'd been caught in your pyjamas at eleven-thirty in the morning? Or your dog was nonchalantly pooing in a neighbour's garden? All caught on camera.

And yet (speaking of England) it's still normally OK to take photos from any public place, such as the ordinary public road. That's why I can take pictures of an interesting house from the pavement outside. I'd always be discreet about it, of course, because the owners would probably feel annoyed at such an intrusive act; but even if they glowered at me with gnashing teeth from their open front door, it wouldn't be illegal. Only if I stepped onto their property would I place myself in the wrong, as opposed to being merely irritating. Unless it were a clear matter of stalking or harassment.

Google are not of course trespassing, stalking or harassing anybody. They quickly come and go on the public road, without stopping, and without any kind of communication. So we're stuck with their visitations.

I'm going to make the best of it. Sometime during the next few months, keying-in 'B2116, Plumpton College, Sussex' on Street View will reveal Fiona approaching the camera car with yours truly at the wheel, driving in my usual spirited fashion. I'll take a copy of that scene, especially if it looks good.

1 comment:

  1. I have just checked and my home is still a blurry mush on their maps but there is a clear picture of the house as it was several years ago but little in that image is still the same...

    G-maps amaze and appal in equal measure, I am sure that they are now the best armchair burglary tool available. Combined with a small drones none of us can have privacy any more.

    Brave new world...

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Lucy Melford