Saturday morning — cooler and greyer than the past few days — finds me four chapters from the end of my edits and feeling very satisfied with the result, if somewhat tired. Settling into that “end of project” feeling, I’m looking forward to a short break before properly starting the research and planning for We Are Watching. Said break might not last too long, however, as I rarely find I am at my best “in between” projects.
Speaking of We Are Watching. Earlier this morning I read this BBC article concerning Google’s plans to launch the Street View mapping tool (a function of Google Earth) in the UK. For those who aren’t familiar with it, this particular tool allows you, on certain streets, in certain cities, to view the street and surrounding buildings etc as if you were actually there. There are privacy concerns, which you can read about here, but that isn’t really what I want to talk about.
The article prompted me to boot up Google Earth and head over to the States to check out some of the Street Views. Whilst I was doing this, I was also thinking about We Are Watching. As the title might suggest, my next novel is definitely going to have “surveillance” overtones — so the possibilities that Google Earth might provide as a research tool were playing through my mind. I’d used Street Views previously and, to be honest, even then I found it a little unnerving. Today, however, the mild discomfort I’d felt before this time hit me full force.
I was on a street called Maple Avenue. I won’t give exact details, but I suppose there are many such locations in the States. Autumn leaves, wooden faced buildings and an overwhelming sense — no doubt the product of the Google Earth Street View tool — of desolation and emptiness. The stillness that the photographs invoke made the place seem like a ghost town. It was oddly intense, unlike anything I’ve experienced whilst sitting in front of the computer before, and my first reaction was, “I want to capture this feeling on paper.” Watching, looking at those empty streets, those dark windows, I realised with a shudder that I felt watched.
A metaphor for the 21st century? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that I’m really beginning to find We Are Watching.