The Algorithm of My Life

I’ve moved three times in my life. Four different houses in the span of seven years. I found myself good at starting over, but I never forgot the place. I could vividly remember bay windows in one house and the yellow entryway of another, the way the front yard of the third had these two huge trees that shaded the front yard, and the way the fourth was in a different state, 515 miles away.

Throughout the years, I’ve found it a way to reminisce by looking back at the three houses that are uneasily accessible to me on a daily, or even yearly basis. I use Google Earth. It may seem creepy, and it most definitely is, but my childhood, the friends I made in those locals, the experiences I gained, is preserved in my memories of those houses.

It was upsetting, the first house I ever lived in was on a road that Google Earth didn’t originally have street view access on while the other two did. That was the house I was carried through the door in a carseat as a baby. The first time I ever ‘came home.’ That was the house I learned to ride a bike at, the house I last saw my Gradma and Grampa at. That house, a simple structure, was home to my memories. It’s certainly trivial when I consider the fact that I throw out yearbooks from middle school, high school awards, and even struggle to find a receipt for something I bought just this morning.

I don’t preserve a lot, personally. I declutter my house, I declutter myself. Yet, just today, when I searched for my first house on Google Earth, I found my first house had street view access. I cried as I looked at the house. No shame in admitting that. The house at which I learned, despite the fact that I was six, to drive a stick shift. I could see the very driveway I’d made faux movies in with my brother, the same street I’d seen everyday for my entire life.

There was something that occurred to me though: this was new. Someone had to go out and gather data and pictures and create the algorithms that helped me to see this sight. Not only that, but I could interact with the image. I could zoom in and out. I could travel up and down the street I once glided swiftly by on while riding my bike. I could even see that the neighbors had torn down their pool when I swirled around 180 degrees.

Someone built this, coded all of the information, and enabled this system to ‘communicate’ with me as I typed in my old address and sat for a moment with fingers crossed before the image pulled up. I interacted with software, and hadn’t actually thought about the consequences until recently.

I see ads for places in New Jersey, a state in which I no longer live. My Pandora station thinks I still go to the HealthQuest that’s only a brief eight-hour car ride away from my current home. This is a result of my searching for things in New Jersey, of my looking up my houses and exploring my childhood digitally.

Not only did I interact with the system. The system interacted with me. It’s uncomfortable, knowing that there’s just this data floating around about my searches and my home addresses. It’s also oddly reassuring that I’m able to see the places I know so well. Duality and plurality make situations hard to comprehend, but also add color to life.

About Olivia Henley

Marine Sciences
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2 Responses to The Algorithm of My Life

  1. Krista Harder says:

    I’m so glad that you’re finally able to see such a clearly special place once again. I find it so fascinating how technology like the Internet and Google Earth can help preserve our childhoods in ways that were perhaps not possible before. For instance, every now and then I’ll get a sudden craving for one of the video games that I watched my cousin Dan play for hours when I was younger, and I won’t be able to remember the name of the game. Because of the way that Google works, I can simply search for elements of the game that I remember and eventually find it. It brings memories flooding back. It keeps pieces of the past alive in highly visual ways. The overwhelming amount of data available about me and my family (Google Earth being the prime example) can be, as you say, uncomfortable, but I don’t think I would be willing to give up the access to the past that it provides.

  2. Tionna Outen says:

    Olivia,

    It is awesome to be able to cherish the memories you have had whilst using Google Earth. I too have utilized Google Earth to view a neighborhood. I had an Urban Planning Law class at my previous institution and we were required to view various landscapes and homes for assignments. However, similarly to you, I am concerned with the safety of location based searches and the information given by Google Earth. I find it odd how Google provides certain searches that match the states I have been to. It is pretty impressive, but I often find myself turning off my location option on my phone because of my concerns. I sometimes feel that leaving my locator on will allow a hacker to find out where I am located or heading to. I always prevent myself from exposing my location on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for privacy concerns too.
    Furthermore, I remember searching Google Earth for a Red Lobster I was interested in working at. I was called to an interview, and wanted to see the Red Lobster and its surroundings prior to meeting with an employer and without physically attending the restaurant. I enjoyed interacting with the provided data and images. I saw a few people and cars within the data. The people’s faces and license plates were blurred, but I always wondered if anyone had the capability of decoding the blurs for illegal access.

    Thank you,

    Tionna Outen

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