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Google Earth – the new planet

in the coordinate system of the modern age.

Manuela Pfrunder: Extract from master thesis of the MAS Cultural/Gender Studies course2008, Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)

Google Earth is the new self-discovery tool in a globalised world.


Google Earth is the new Mount Olympus, which determines the existence of the real world.


Google Earth is the new copy of the earth as a result of its maximised power of representation.


Google Earth is the new n-dimensional mapping system used to visualise biodiversity.


Google Earth is the new apiary for map-producing cursor travellers.


Google Earth is the new order of things, breaking down a thousand plateaux to a single common denominator.


Google Earth – the new planet in the coordinate system of the modern age.





“In reality, those who have set out to traverse [Google Earth] have measured themselves. What finger-travellers observe, be it on old paper or on screen, are ultimately the landscapes of their own imagination and thus in fact themselves. But is that not equally true of the authentic wanderer, who trudges, exhausted and sweating, through deserts, dune landscapes or forests? The world is perhaps not our will, but it is certainly all in our imagination, and both types of traveller come to know themselves on their journey – and hence everything of the infinite cosmos that is truly accessible to him.”


(Kehlmann, Daniel in: du – Zeitschrift für Kultur 2005/2006, issue no. 11/12, p. 21)



Global thinking has at last found its spatial home.

Google Inc.’s declared mission is to transport as much information as possible onto the internet in order to structure it there and offer it in an organised form to the information society, which would be hopelessly overstretched by this flood of information without the support of the search engine […].


Google Inc. organises information that others have produced. Google Inc. itself produces little or no information. The company depends on the emission of information by private users, organisations and companies. The same is true of Google Earth: only through the participation of private users who produce thematic map systems at home and offer them as downloads or highlight astonishing information on Google Earth does Google Earth become a representation of the earth in which more and more aspects of our lives are recorded.


In the process, however, Google Earth is also being colonised by all sorts of advertising. Because a company not featured on the map is also non-existent in the reality of the cursor traveller. Google Earth is becoming a super-world that determines the existence and market value of such companies in the real world. Individuals must be aware of a second world that is constantly turning on its axis, even when they are offline. Google Earth is a modern Mount Olympus on which dice are thrown to determine a company’s fate – and balance sheet.


In this super-world, there is no longer any need to delineate national state borders. The deregulated global market demands borders that are fluid; borders that can be overcome; borders that are no longer omnipresent, as in conventional mapping systems, but can be shown or hidden – as in Google Earth.


Google Earth: a radicalised representation of the modern image of the world, in which global thinking has at last found its spatial home […].


The entire virtual world bows before the cursor.

In our globalised world, the ego is forced to position itself in a context. Google Earth offers a suitable way of doing so. The user stands at the centre of Google Earth and looks for his coordinates in the coordinates system of the modern age. With every mouse click, satellites deliver an answer to that ancient metaphysical question: “Where am I?” […] The user locates his ego and appropriates a piece of the world. He discovers astonishing things on the satellite images that nobody else has ever seen, labels the place in question with a pin symbol, and publishes his discovery in the Google Earth community forum, from where it can be downloaded as a readymade travel guide file. With a double-click, he will be transported straight to the miraculous site.


[…] The cursor traveller becomes a modern Columbus, who discovers, conquers and labels the world a second time. The user becomes a geographer in Google Earth. And the entire virtual world bows before his cursor, his personified ego – for what obeys the movements of my hand up there on the screen can only be me.


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