Google Earth and class interests

Google Earth, the software that lets you view any place in the world largely in three dimensions thanks to the combined power of Google Search and satellite and aircraft-taken images of the globe, has gradually tilted the balance of information power among countries as well as among classes in a given society.

Starting in 2005, Google Earth struck the paranoiac nerve of countries that kept secret installations or wanted some locations away from prying eyes. Thailand and South Korea complained that Google Earth has just made their important military installations and state buildings vulnerable to attacks, like from terrorists. Next to cry foul, India even wanted to bring the issue to the level of international law or agreement among nations regarding national security vis-a-vis satellite technological advancement.

Today, there’s an implicit acceptance of the fact that no one can stop technology, as averred by Alvin Toffler many years ago and Thomas Friedman of the renowned “The World is Flat” book. So Google Earth has apparently survived the threat to its continued use.

Depending on the lay of the a given society, technology can be used by clashing interests for their various ends. It may also beget creation of a technology versus a technology. Google Earth is a glaring example of how a technology serves an interest, irregardless of its position in society in terms of wealth and political power. For example, the Indian government did not like Google’s exposing its secret places to public view. But the Indian farmers did maximize its advantage to their concern.

In an article published last year,

Farmers in Pen Taluka—140 kms from Mumbai—were told that the State government would be acquiring their land to build the 2,500 acre Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ). They were also told that only a small portion of the earmarked land was fertile and that some parts of it were submerged by salty creek water—which translated into lower compensaton to the farmers for their land. Arun Shivkar, an activist of the SEZ Hatao Virodh Samiti, then logged on to Google Earth.

But when Google Earth’s satellite pictures clearly indicated that the ‘submerged’ parts were in fact fertile crop areas the farmers could back their claims for higher compensation.

The technology has also brought together farmers from 45 villages to put up a common front and protest the acquisition of their land.

For as long as Google Earth and other ICTs remain accessible to all people including the marginalized groups through their partner progressive and activist intermediaries (like NGOs and academic institutions), technologies must be here to stay to serve the noble purposes like equity and human development.

Oh, I was thinking if Google Earth can be used for rural poverty-marked societies like the Philippines. I wonder if the government has utilized even the GPS for the benefit of the poor citizens. (I’ll write more about this later.)

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