I LIVE IN A semi-rural area in Ireland (evidence at left) where nobody knows the numerical designations of most of the roads. This seasoned ignorance becomes apparent when American visitors ring up for instructions, politely mentioning the R-route they're following to get over the mountain from Kilkenny and into the safer valleys of Tipperary. You could talk to a farmer on some of those rural roads and he would deny the road markings. Instead, he would tell you something like, "Go straight until the fork in the road then take a right turn down the boreen until you get to the oak tree. Go around to the left and down the hill to Mulcahy's pub. You can see the cemetery from there so head right towards it but mind the sheep." It doesn't matter what the GPS is telling you. Sheep do not figure on the GPS schema. Neither do pub fronts nor do oak trees. For those things, we have Google's street-level mapping.
Google's caravan of truck-mounted cameras has been driving city streets in the States, snapping close-up photographs of homes, shops and public places. Google is filming steet-side views in the States, where a zip code put into your mobile phone can tell you the location of nearly any service facility on or off the map.
A less ambitious project exists in Ireland with dedicated vans drive slowly down public streets to record manhole covers, entrance ways, sidewalks, telephone poles, street lighting and other things normally put in place during the past 100 years. Because in Ireland, some people move around public fixtures without telling the local authorities and that confuses the maintenance crews who show up to paint things no longer in their proper places.
Google's vans capture more than the Irish camera trucks. Some privacy advocates are very uncomfortable with the result of the camera teams because the lenses capture people sunbathing topless, customers entering sex shops, and quiet moments on park benches having a root-around with your nose. Some people with time to spare have turned Google's streetside camera moments into celebrity hunting expeditions.
Mindful that Google's project demonstrates the shrinking of our private space, I think the idea of street-level perspectives would boost the quality of life in Ireland. If citizens had the street-side views, they wouldn't need the State to erect thousands of street signs. And for the next century, the charm of unmarked lanes, avenues and by-ways could continue, without unsightly street signs detracting from the tranquility of the village oak tree and local pub front.