A friend of mine once expressed to me his admiration of Google’s Street View feature and how amazing it was to be able to explore any city at the touch of a button. He’s right, that is amazing, but nothing beats walking the beat yourself. Smelling the baconey-smelling breeze as you walk on Alki beach on a Monday morning. Or that disgusting but familiar scent of urine in the alleyway as you hunt for new street art. If you’re doing it virtually, you miss out on those things.
Virtual reality can never replicate the five senses. You can’t touch anything. You can’t smell anything. You can’t feel anything. The burning in your legs as you climb a steep incline, the feeling of someone bumping into you on a bustling street. The man behind the computer screen, his legs don’t feel anything. They may even be asleep from lack of blood flow.
You miss the sounds of the street, happening in real time, not in pre-recorded Dolby surround sound, we’re talking the real deal here. The whining engine of the garbage truck, the screeching sound of brakes, the bongos off in the distance, the chatter of people talking, birds singing, waves crashing, planes flying overhead, people singing to themselves, sidewalk preachers shouting about eternal damnation, you miss it all.
The man in the bandanna with no shirt and cut off jean shorts that conjure up memories of Daisy Duke if she were a homeless Native American guy selling newspapers on the corner. He has a football in his hand. He’s trying to coax the businessmen and women into playing a game of catch with him, he makes a throwing gesture with his eyebrows raised in an inquisitive fashion to one of the suits, who instantly breaks into a passing pattern and catches a perfectly thrown pass over the shoulder. The suit throws it back, and another suit joins in the fun and wraps our homeless QB in Daisy Duke’s up for a tackle, it surprises him. All three of them are smiling and laughing. You don’t get that in virtual reality, no matter how hard you try.
Another suit walks up to him and says something I can’t make out. The QB shouts at the smiling man as he walks away, “YEAH, YOU JUST LIKE TO HEAR YOURSELF TALK, THAT’S WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS!” and he starts his routine again, trying to get the movers and the shakers to take a break from the day to day routine and engage with him in a game of toss.
He’s a homeless guy, conducting a sociological experiment. I guess in a way, all homeless have the potential to conduct sociological research on the human condition. They have a worms-eye view of the human race living life, its beauty, its flaws, its serendipitous twists and turns. Google Street View doesn’t make you feel anything close to this. It’s a tool and nothing more. It isn’t a replacement for the real thing, the experience. It’s just pixels.
The road through life is often uphill, and there are those moments when we all have to lean in and give it everything we’ve got to reach the summit. Witnessing this man climbing the street in Seattle, hands clasped behind his back, taking a low angle, eyes on the ground in front of him. He was making good time. I admired him for his tenacity. He seemed to be using his low center of gravity to his advantage.
This man, hunched over, leaning into the steep incline, hurriedly making his way through the people who seemed oblivious to his presence. At this moment, I felt like I was the only one who noticed him at all. Thinking back, I imagine there had to be someone else whose eye this character caught. He navigated the sign behind him by shouldering it like a tackling dummy, slithering around it like a snake and continuing on, ever moving forward, like a salmon fighting its way upstream.
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