Google Street View glitches on the fringes of everything
If you explore the fringes of certain roads on Google Street View, you tend to find glitches. This includes duplicate camera car sightings, faces that weren’t blurred and a man attempting to push free a camera car that’s stuck in sand. It isn’t clear if the glitches are more prevalent because of the general inaccessibility and remoteness of the areas, or if the geography is just a coincidence—Google hasn’t yet responded to my inquires.
Initially, I was exploring these areas out of curiosity—to see where certain roads meandered off into nothing, meeting impassable natural barriers, like bodies of water or cliffs, without having to actually spend hours driving there in person. To me, there’s something sadly aspirational about roads that lead nowhere; that someone invested manpower and capital to provide access to these isolated, unimportant areas, where so few tend to travel.
It turns out, many of roads on Street View don’t have natural ends, but instead meet abstract, man-made barriers. The road usually continues on, but you are blocked from going with it. These barriers include entrances to military bases (Xiyu, Taiwan, pictured above); tungsten mines (Northwest Territories, Canada, pictured below, aka “the little mine that Can(tung)“) and other private properties and borders of countries that—for I’m sure very dull geopolitical reasons—don’t permit Google to enter. You hit an invisible wall, like a videogame character that’s reached the edge of their designed world. It really makes one relate to that cheesy Five Man Electrical Band song about signs.
I started trying to find natural borders, which brought me to Alaska and northern Canada. From the vantage point of the satellite map, two roads—Spine Road and Navy Road—stretch about as far north as one can go, through a landscape marbled with lakes and rivers, towards the frigid Beaufort Sea.
Navy Road (pictured below) ends just north of Inuvik, never making it to the sea. The road turns into a muddy loop, passing an abandoned shack. As I turned around, I suddenly saw a muddy Google camera car parked next to a beat-up pickup truck. For a moment, I felt like I was looking at myself; I was worried the universe might tear itself in half. It’s not clear if this is a technical glitch, somehow creating a duplicate car, or there was actually a second car (again, Google hasn’t answered my emails). It does appear as though the two cars pull beside each other, so the drivers can have a quick conversation in the middle of nowhere.
Spine Road, near Prudhoe Bay, seemed more promising. It winds all the way to the sea, passing a few elk along the way, but unfortunately ends at private property owned by BP. And yet again, as I approached the invisible wall, I saw another camera car, this time driving towards me:
In Botswana, near the northern end of A35, close to the border of Namibia, north of Shakawe, I found unblurred faces:
On the ironically named Transit Road, also in Botswana, I found a Google employee desperately trying to push his camera car out of the sand:
There seem to be more glitches in the fringes of these remote areas. If these places are generally ignored and neglected physically, so too will they be digitally. Unfortunately, none of these places are “ends” in any sense; they’re artificial barriers. It’s as if the digital world actively works against creating a sense of an ending, preferring instead to preserve the illusion of an infinite utopian present. I think that’s what makes these sorts of glitches so disconcerting — they briefly disrupt the anesthetizing verisimilitude of the system.
Frustrated at being unable to find what I was looking for, I started dropping the Street View pin haphazardly on the map. When I dropped it on a seemingly empty spot in eastern Kuji, Japan, the view unexpectedly flipped to Street View, opening inside an abandoned rest house, looking out of shattered windows into a frozen forest. It was jarring. Finally, the end of something.