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      Riding Through Walls: A journey of physical computing through Google Street View



      Proceedings of EVA London 2019 (EVA 2019)

      Electronic Visualisation and the Arts

      8 - 11 July 2019

      Physical computing, Google Street View, Maker culture, Virtual road trip, Networked bike



            Over two years, artist and researcher Dr. Megan Smith cycled through image tile after image tile of the Google Street View platform, physically working her way across 6300 km of highway—redefining what the great Canadian road trip can be. Starting out with a goal to network a stationary bike with the internet, along the way she dropped into an other experience: a space of physical glitches, a jaunt through other people’s histories, a glimpse into the lives of the people who drive the Google–Mobiles—their pit-stops, lunches, and road kill. It was a digitally enhanced life experience far beyond what the step counter on a fitbit can offer. It was not an ‘Everyware,’ but instead an intimate glimpse into the layers of preserved digital visual culture along a focused route that revealed human and algorithmic errors hidden deep within the structure of the amazing archive of Google data. Each blurred statue and virtual dead-end hinted at the infrastructure and labour, which has produced a wealth of information hidden beyond the boundaries of the publicly accessible platform. Perpetually triggered by human force, it was an experience of places beyond reach that were nonetheless felt, seen, and discovered through a compulsive drive to push through the Internet. The journey was filled with surprise and discovery, from the sudden appearance of angelic forms on the screen, to messages of affection scrawled on the rocks of the endless Canadian Shield. These moments of excitement punctuated the endless hours of cycling, which required both physical endurance and mental perseverance. While most forays into Google Street View last a few minutes and involve magical teleportation from one landmark to the next, Smith pedalled for a total of 337 hours. This duration almost exactly matches Google’s prediction for the over 6300 km journey, demonstrating the real physicality of her virtual endeavour, and the detailed accuracy of the geo-data within the platform. From coast to coast, Smith was joined physically and virtually by supporters who rode alongside or cheered as she achieved milestone after milestone, getting ever nearer to Canada’s east coast. The entire adventure was live cast and documented publicly on social media. An archive of the performance can be found across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube along with directions to build a DIY networked bike on Instructables. Through a series of events and workshops the project engaged the community and spawned interest in virtual road tripping and exploration. This paper will discuss the sights and experiences encountered along this journey across Canada, and what those experiences say about digitally experiencing geography and culture through a visual archive: the timelessness of experiences frozen in the database, the limitations of human error within a platform that is managed by algorithms, and what it really means to be physically computing.


            Author and article information

            July 2019
            July 2019
            : 381-388
            [0001]University of Regina

            Regina, SK, Canada
            [0002]Simon Fraser University

            Surrey, BC, Canada
            © Smith et al. Published by BCS Learning and Development Ltd. Proceedings of EVA London 2019, UK

            This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

            Proceedings of EVA London 2019
            EVA 2019
            London, UK
            8 - 11 July 2019
            Electronic Workshops in Computing (eWiC)
            Electronic Visualisation and the Arts
            Product Information: 1477-9358BCS Learning & Development
            Self URI (journal page): https://ewic.bcs.org/
            Electronic Workshops in Computing


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