In praise of Google Earth

One of the things I’ve tried, and mostly failed, to do in this blog series is to shine a light on the things that I really enjoy but that too few others do. A prime candidate for this list is the Google Earth, but it seemed unlikely that I’d find a good excuse to sing the praises of the 3D globe software.

That changed, fortuitously, after I watched the Oscar-nominated Lion last night. It tells the (based-on-a-) true story of Saroo, a young boy from Madyar Pradesh who goes missing after erroneously falling asleep on a one-way train bound for Kolkata. Lion sketches Saroo’s efforts to find his family, which continue after he is adopted and raised by a Tasmanian family. Without giving too much away, Saroo’s efforts are greatly aided by Google’s Earth software.

Though Saroo’s uses of the software were more deliberate, I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s wiled away hours lazily scrolling and zooming my way around Google Earth’s impossibly comprehensive satellite imagery. And I’m willing to argue that Google Earth has done as much for how the world perceives itself as the famous ‘pale blue dot’ image released in 1990. There’s something about the ability to instantly and intuitively iterate between the neighborhood in which you grew up and the globe from afar which lends the sort of perspective that you can’t un-see or un-experience.

Google Earth is available for download, and you can now even retrace the steps that Saroo Brierley took to find his long-lost family. Lion is nominated for six gongs in Sunday’s Academy Awards.