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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Google gives us the stars, but where's our New World?

Today's tech news has an interesting little piece about Google's latest upgrade to its Google Earth app, which allows users to zoom in on satellite images from around the planet. The new feature, called Sky, reverses the view, and turns our virtual gaze out into the universe (see Google puts universe online for more details).

It's the perfect enhancement for computer-chair-bound star gazers, especially those like myself who live in urban environments where the night sky is obscured by bright city lights. I love the fact that you can call up these images for free on your computer and take a virtual ride through the galaxies — a nice little space travel fix for all of us recovering Star Trek geeks.

The project has had strong backing from the scientific community, and it's envisioned as a future storehouse for astronomical data. The collaboration is another small step toward the still unfulfilled great promise of the Internet, delivering a tasty sampling of the social change the technology has dangled before us like Tantalus for years now.

My expectations may be too high, but Web 2.0 — extolled by many as the Internet's renaissance — has so far proved little more than a marketing gimmick. In theory, ever-expanding social networks should break down old prejudices and unite people around the world as never before. In reality, they're over-run by spam and get-rich-quick schemes, not to mention plenty of blogs that spew hate and stoke division.

Ideally, the advent of digitized content should lead to the dawning of a new information age of enlightenment with all of the world's stored knowledge easily accessible to any querying mind. Instead, we're refining search algorithms to call up the latest viral videos of pensive cats playing piano, and regressing into a middling muddled era of inanity.

Maybe I'm just being impatient for changes that will inevitably come, or maybe the problem lies with the overarching social system that controls the applications of these technologies, and handicaps them to suit its self-preserving needs. My inkling is toward the latter, but my digression was really just an excuse to post about a favorite song that I've been listening to again recently.

In the safety of our home we may be able to escape into virtual worlds built from the collective observations of the cosmos, or the accumulated remnants of past civilizations. Once we step out into the street, however, we still find ourselves face-to-face with the problems of a broken society: homeless men and women pleading for change.

The New World
by X

"honest to goodness the bars weren't open this morning
they must have been voting for a new president of something
... do you have a quarter?"
I said yes because i did, honest to goodness
the tears have been falling all over the country's face
it was better before before they voted for what's his name
this is supposed to be the new world

flint ford auto mobile alabama
windshield wipers buffalo new york
gary indiana, don't forget the motor city
baltimore and d.c., now all we need is ...
don't forget the motor city
this is supposed to be the new world
don't forget the motor city
this is supposed to be the new world

all we need is money, just give us what you can spare
twenty or thirty pounds of potatoes, or twenty or thirty beers
a turkey on Thanksgiving, like alms for the poor
all we need are the necessities and more
it was better before they voted for what's his name
this is supposed to be the new world
it was better before they voted for what's his name
this is supposed to be the new world
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