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I didn't even know you had a name.
You’re sort of like a television personality.
We humans see you on our computer screens almost every day, but you don’t know a single one of us. Nope, you’re just docked over there in the bottom right hand corner of any Google map patiently waiting for me to lift you up and transport you to wherever I please.
I love how you swing around like a kid on a jungle gym and plop down on my chosen spot. I love how you zap back to your dock when I try to put you in a No Pegman Zone. And when I release you to land ever-so-gently, I love how the boring map instantly changes to some compelling real-life scene in a place I’d love to walk.
I love that what you show me is 100 percent organic and never staged. Everything I see through your eyes feels so authentic. You record quintessential archival images; you’re simply what the Google Street View person’s cam picks up when he drives, rides, walks, or gets around however.
About a week ago, Pegman, as our world awash in sadness and shock and pain, I sat down in front of my computer screen and blinked, not really knowing what to do. Then I conjured up a place I’m not likely to ever go for a walk or meetup: the Gaza Strip.
When I lifted you from your dock, Pegman, the first thing I noticed was that none of the street grids turned blue, indicating your allowed fields.
That was curious to me. Google has infiltrated nearly every corner of the Earth, but in Gaza (and a host of other places), I was clearly not free to digitally roam the streets with you. There were, however, those blue dots where peeps took 360-degree photos, and you’re definitely allowed to land on those.
One from 2017 showed an elaborate setup for a celebration that had either just ended or was yet to begin. Another from 2021 depicted a sad interior; one from February of this year showed a sad exterior. None of them belied the staggering hate that rained down on neighboring Israel on October 7, 2023.
I’m not sure what I was looking for, Pegman, but I didn’t find it.
It’s not your fault. This fraught conflict has been around much longer than you—or me, for that matter. To understand this hate, We’d have to go back and read about the Ottoman Empire and the complex agreements that brought World War II to an end (Google even designates Gaza’s borders thusly: "1950 Armistice Agreement Line"). We’d need to listen to scholars and teachers and we still might not understand the depth of this hate.
You know what, Pegman? The smartest, most learned people on this planet don’t understand the hate either—at least not enough to stop it. And I surely don’t need to understand it to feel it.
The most dangerous thing about this hate is the way it grows and grows so fast, like a swirling cyclone gaining power and speed. The terror of that day may have exploded 6,000 miles away, but it’s bubbling up all around us, and getting bigger all the time. It's bitten humanity in so many places, I wonder if we’ll ever stop it from burning my tragic and beautiful species completely out of existence.
I didn’t say it before, but sometimes when you’re swinging around a map, it looks like you’re being painfully dragged by someone much bigger; and boy, do I understand that.
Pegman, you and I are very little and the Earth is very big. We will have to stick together to fight this kind of hate.
We will have to be very brave.
Love, love, love, Erin