I was watching ABC New's Nightline program last night as they reported on President Obama's plan to curtail the housing mortgage crisis. The report focused in on Phoenix and in particular West Zion Road in Maricopa, and by using Google Earth, zoomed into that neighborhood which exhibits the kind of blight that many cities are facing...multiple foreclosures on the same block not to mention the many other houses just simply up for sale.
What struck me was that the use of web mapping and satellite technology somehow makes it not just "real" (the obvious reason for using satellite images that can zoom to street level), but familiar. Maps have always been used in some form of news reporting but not with the same specificity; not with the same ability to isolate on a particular street; not with the notion of proximity and scale. It's not only real, but personal.
What's the most asked question when using Google Earth for the first time? Can I see my house? Well, that's fine, except you don't ever want to see it in a news report about home foreclosures. Now, that would be a little too real.