Is Google Street View ruining your vacation?

Earlier this month I took a road trip / pilgrimage to Indiana for GearFest, a big two-day music and sound event at Sweetwater’s facility in Fort Wayne. If you’re ever in need of any pro audio or music-related gear or just some advice, these guys are the real deal, and Sweetwater is one of the most customer-focused companies around.

Anyway, on my drive back I planned a couple of sightseeing stops along the way to break up the monotony (no offense Indiana and western Ohio, but you are flat and your roads are seriously straight).

Of course, a quick search online before I headed out yielded lots of possibilities including President McKinley’s birthplace in Niles, Ohio. Not satisfied to just plunk the address into my GPS and let the experience unfold naturally, I got engrossed in Wikipedia, Trip Advisor reviews and the like learning all about the place beforehand. Google Street View and satellite images even showed me what the house looked like from all sides.

It turns out there wasn’t much to see, just a tiny rebuilt house in the middle of a village block. I was almost to the point of wondering why I actually needed to visit the place if I already knew everything about it.

But I went. And as I was looking for a place to park nearby, I spotted a huge memorial to McKinley that spanned an entire block which I somehow had missed in all of the online prep for my visit. I was so glad that I didn’t know about it. How awesome it was to just stumble on this! Had I “street viewed” it ahead of time, I would not have been nearly as impressed.

There’s something refreshing about just happening upon something instead of being a “virtual expert” before you even arrive.

All of the online descriptions, pictures, videos, and reviews available these days can be a great way to steer you to places that you may not otherwise know about. But, it can also ruin the joy of discovery… you know, that feeling you had as a kid on that family trip to Cape Cod when your parents said, “we’re going to Provincetown!” and you had no idea what that meant.

Like most things, I guess it’s all about balance and using the tools you have wisely. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a “with great power comes great responsibility” moment, but it’s worth considering how much curiosity we may want to reserve for that moment when we pull into a parking lot, look up, and say “WOW!,” instead of feeling like we’ve already been there.