Digital Tourism

……………I was watching the SkyDive from the Edge of Space on CNN last Sunday afternoon, and rather than listening to the talking heads explain to me why this was so important, I decided to go to Google Maps to do a little digital tourism. I’ve been wanting to take my wife and children to Puerto Rico to visit my mother’s side of the family before all of my elders disappear.

……………While looking at the map of the Caribbean, I noticed the little island of Montserrat. An island I only know because of a volcano that erupted there back in 1995. I hadn’t thought much about that place since the stories appeared in the newspaper 17 years ago. (Newspapers were still a daily staple back then, and I’ve always been an avid reader). I decided to visit.

……………Using Google Maps, I zoomed in, noticing along the way that the island is a little more than 5 miles wide and perhaps as much as ten miles long. While the whole island could still fit on my computer screen, I could begin to see where the volcano had spewed its gray ash. Zoom in one more click and now I can see the names of the cities and towns that were in the way: Molyneux, Tuitts, Bramble Village, and the former capitol, Plymouth. As I zoom in, I am continually amazed at the amount of detail that I can gather from the satellite photos. The direction of the ash and lava flow; the formation of new beaches, new lands. Along with the map, I also viewed the photos that people attach. An amazing little feature and easy to use.

……………Here’s where I took a break in this search, and left for about six hours of the day to do other things. Shopping for food and cleaning the kitchen, clearing the fridge of unusable leftovers and spoiled produce that never manages to push the bad food off our plates. Cooking Sunday meals and getting everyone ready for the week, I forgot about my earlier search until I returned to my computer. I remembered having a virtual tool, that looked more 3D that Google maps, so I searched and found Google Earth, which I quickly downloaded.

I was not disappointed. Google Earth is Google Maps on a serious training regimen (Notice I didn’t say it was on steroids, because that’s like saying Google Earth cheated). Using Google Earth, I was able to do some serious Digital Touring, visiting my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, checking out the new Barclay Center (home of the lowly Nets), seeing how the rebuilding was going along in downtown Manhattan at the site of the World Trade Center attacks, and even admiring the 3D sonar mapping around New York City … I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster, which recounts the long and prodigious history of clamming in New York waters, and seeing these online maps with so much information allowed me to see my hometown in a completely different light.

……………Needless to say, Google Earth is a wonderful and powerful tool that can easily become a huge time vortex, mindlessly consuming hours of your time as you hop around the world digitally. Could I check out China, I thought? Sure I could. How about Cuba? Or North Korea? Why not, says Google Earth. It’s just information. So off I went. Scanning miles and miles of endless rainforest in Brazil (there’s tons of missing information there … not too clear). I went from thought to thought, checking out places that popped into my mind. Next I checked out Abu Dhabi and their crazy land formations. Unlike other nations in the Middle East, the leaders of Abu Dhabi are hoping to court Western visitors and investors to their country and they are looking forward to a time when their oil and petroleum profits literally dry up. They are building up a resort wonderland that aims to rival anything anyone in the world has ever envisioned. (Those palm trees in the picture below are actually man made islands, and all the way to the right there is a mini earth where wealthy people can purchase an entire island in their favorite part of the “world”).

……………It’s been a week since I started writing this post, and I can’t stop using Google Earth to visit places that pop into my head or that just look interesting from space. I’ve visited my father’s small town in Ecuador; my mother’s birth place in Ponce, Puerto Rico; I gazed at the Bering Sea and saw the underwater profile, and imagined how a few degrees of cold could lock the whole area in ice, allowing the ancestors of my ancestors to cross long ago … to populate North and South America. As a kid, I heard that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made object visible from space. Even though I thought I knew where I should find this “obviously” visible structure on Google Earth, I couldn’t find it. Sadly, whenever I typed Great Wall of China in the search box, what I got was directions to Chinese restaurants by that name. In the end, I was not able to see it from space, and I found out that it was an urban legend.

……………I turned to visit towns on the edge of deserts, wondering how people can resist the relentless onslaught of the sands. I viewed a winding river curving through the Congo (-3.493203,17.532806) creating an amazingly fluid and beautiful shape that made me want to get up and start painting. But I didn’t. I remained and kept zooming in and out, exploring whatever caught my eye; a remote corner of Australia, and the huge and apparently orange sands of the Simpson desert. Using the 3D building feature, I visited Rome and the neighboring Vatican City.

……………Google Earth’s 3D models are created by volunteers, amateurs and professionals, who upload their Sketch Up renditions of real buildings to a warehouse. After that, a team at Google Earth selects those models that will be placed on the maps. Information about the works and creators is available by clicking on the model, and you can even visit the warehouse and check out all the models people have uploaded. Another incredible store of digital information that is completely free and available for anyone to explore and use.

……………Finally, I had to stop exploring all these amazing tools and get to posting this. There are other tools that allow you to record and narrate a digital tour. You can also explore underwater areas that have been mapped and even photographed. There are panoramic photographs at every historical site I could think of, and just when I thought I couldn’t take in more information, I discovered that Google Earth also allows you to explore the moon and mars, including all of the landing sites.

……………Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you find somewhere interesting to visit.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

Author: htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.

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