Google Earth — So Impressive, So Depressing

Google Moon is now up and running. Is it only I who finds Google Earth electrifying and yet somewhat depressing, and disturbing?

The idea of being able to zoom into street level is amazing. The technology is extraordinary. Wonderful. It’s one of those moments when you get a real buzz, as if life has just been jolted a yard or two down the track in one second. But now I can’t go outside without thinking how many satellites might be tracking me, or wondering whether there is any place on earth that can’t be visible from space.

It’s awe-inspiring to put little markers in the map and then zoom from one corner of the world to the next, from my family home in the UK to the hotel I’m in in Hong Kong, to the actual rock on Lamma I was sitting on last week. Amazing. But at the same time seeing a journey that takes a day or two reduced to a zippy flyover is somewhat deflating. What happened the mystery of travel? Why travel the globe if you can zip around it on your computer?

The whole zooming out into space and then back is fun, too. But at the same time all it does is remind us how insignificant we are. Little blips. And yet, zooming over the planet from my house to your house also seems to make the planet a lot smaller, and not necessarily in a nice way.

I guess part of me hoped the planet would still be big enough to satisfy a couple more generations’ wanderlust, but now technology is, brilliantly but relentlessly, making everything smaller, easier to find, easier to reach. You’ve got to wonder whether traveler Michael Palin and his ilk (and he still has a few ilks) are a dying breed. Have Google and GPS buried the intrepid explorer?

I hope not.

More On The Moleskine Alternative

I just heard back from someone in the Scottish company that makes the Alwych notebook, an alternative to the Moleskine, which I posted about a few days back. Ian J Johnstone of the J. R. Reid Print & Media Group Limited (careful: the link doesn’t seem to work well outside IE) kindly emailed back a bit of background on the company’s notebook, which I pass on here for those of you looking for an alternative to the Moleskine:

We have supplied these notebooks for many years. Their unique selling point is the “All Weather Cover” which has made them popular with many individuals and organisations which require a durable notebook that can stand up to life outdoors. We supply them to, among others, the British Armed Forces and the British Antartic Expedition and, as you mentioned in your e-mail Michael Palin is a fan – and our unpaid ambassador – mentioning them wherever he goes to talk about his adventures! We always know where he is in the world from the internet orders he generates for us.

The book comes in various sizes and internal layouts. We sell lots of Alwych Books to Bird Watchers, who use them to record sightings and often to sketch birds, Fishermen, to record their catches and Archeologists, for recording their findings at “digs”. We are currently developing a “Super Alwych” which will address our customers desire for a fully waterproof notebook and we hope to launch this book in the second half of 2005.

So there you have it. I don’t see any specific reference on Palin’s site to the Alwych, although the keyword ‘notebook’ throws up some interesting little nuggets, like this one from Dhaka, Bangladesh:

When I get out my notebook, a curious crowd presses against me. The Lonely Planet Guide devotes a whole column to ‘Staring’: ‘The Western concept of privacy is not a part of the culture in Bangladesh,’ it warns, and I can see what they mean. I find it as much comical as threatening, as 20 or more people all peer over my shoulder to try and see what I’m writing in a very small book. When I stop writing, all eyes turn to my face, watching expectantly. When I resume, they go back to the book, following every line and curve with the utmost concentration.

I like the look of the Alwych though I haven’t tried using one yet. It’s without the band and pocket, and the All Weather Cover is bendy, if that’s not getting too technical. It’s also slightly taller than a Moleskine, as I’ve compared here:

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Anyway, definitely worth trying out if everyone on your block has a Moleskine and you want to look different. Are there any other candidates out there?