literature · technology

The Proustian usage of Street View and Google Maps

I want to say it upfront, as in the abstract of an academic paper (to make it cool, possibly):

Marcel Proust would have loved to use Street View on Google Maps, with the specific purpose of remembering past itineraries that fascinated him. And more than that: not simply remembering them, but retracing his steps, to feel the same emotions he previously experienced. Obviously, he could not use this technology in his time, whereas we can, and still be intimately Proustian.

Maybe you want to argue: “Come on, this is too easy a shortcut: in the case of the famous madeleines the Narrator recalled things past by lingering on the scent and taste of the madeleines. His memory had to do the job! Street View is now doing the job of your memory. You can’t do that”.

My reply: Proust was not a luddist. He loved technologies that were new during his times, such as the car and the telephone, which allowed him to do things he could not do before. Proust showed us that we can enrich infinitely our lives through the art and practice of using our memory, and never suggested to reject new technologies.

So, let’s use Street View on Google Maps to immerse ourselves in the experience of specific tours we did, itineraries we followed every day in a specific period of our lives that is long gone.

I tried doing this and I loved it. I used it for walks in the Dolomites and visits to Paris, for everyday walks in London and in Boston. It is so Proustian (if you haven’t read Proust yet, what are you doing here? Read on, at least “Un amour de Swann”), and your memory will be driving the show: something in your real life recalls you of things past even if you do not want it, you start to remember and maybe –if you have time- you use Street View to retrace your steps on that trip you took so long time ago.

You can compare the “2021 images” with the images that are stored in your memory: buildings might be different, old shops might have been replaced by new ones or could be forever gone. You can go ahead on a walk that you always wanted to do but your parents did not let you. You can stop in a street where you wanted to stay longer, but you had not the time for. You can hate places you loved, love places you hated, lazily confirm your past feelings, and remember things that Google Maps cannot show you, but you pick them up as a good gift from the large and deep map of your memory.

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