What else can we do with video once the image is discernible? It’s a fascinating question. Do we up the resolution? Do we add 3-D? Do we make it explorable through a user’s own panning and tilting? Or do we call attention to its faux authenticity, its inherently digital nature?
ASCII Streetview is a project by Teehan+Lax Labs that chooses the more killjoy option. It’s Google Streetview, run through a WebGL shader. This shader converts shapes and colors to the basic text foundations of computing, ASCII, turning Streetview into one undulating painting of letters and numbers, one that reminds you that your view really comes from portside windows of the Internet. “By far, the most common response to visiting the site is ‘I’m in the Matrix,’” creator Peter Nitsch tells Co.Design. “To me, that’s a sign that we were close to hitting our goal.
“I’m very nostalgic about text-mode art. It brings back memories of surfing BBS’s and hacking old UNIX systems–a time when computers had a certain mythos about them,” Nitsch writes. “ASCII (and ANSI) Art was the prevalent form of expression during that time, and translates that ‘in the system’ feeling perfectly.”
ASCII definitely has both the look and the same origins-of-the-Internet, hacker overtones seen in The Matrix. You could categorize the work more generally under the new aesthetic. A few decades ago, this image wouldn’t make much sense beyond that it’s a picture of somewhere. Now, we understand how much allusion hides within the digital abstraction with nothing but a glance.
It’s Google. It’s maps. It’s one of those funny images someone forwarded you before email had pictures. Moreover, it’s part of a whole digital infrastructure that’s become entirely real to us all.