It may be an unpromising place to look for Xanadu, but just north of Liverpool off the A59 there is a town that is already entering the annals of myth. This town, “Argleton”, appears on Google Maps, by mistake, and nowhere else. Mike Nolan and Roy Bayfield of Edge Hill University are the modern-day Marco Polos who discovered it, and there is now a “save Argleton” campaign on the web which is urging Google not to correct the error.
The preservationists have poetry on their side. Argleton is a fortuitously evocative name, sounding a bit like Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop, that village in deepest England known only by its railway station; and even more like something out of an old Ealing comedy, about a town fighting for its autonomy against the faceless drones of Whitehall.
Perhaps the save Argleton campaign also marks the beginnings of a dissident movement, a reaction against the speed and stealth with which Google is mapping every last blade of grass in the world. It is easy to overlook how quickly this has happened…
Now Google Earth allows us to fly from deep space to our own back garden in a matter of moments, and then switch to Google Street View and check out the state of our neighbours’ curtains. And while I don’t agree with the anti-privacy campaigners who have tried to stop the company doing this – Earth is not copyrightable, after all, and a street is a public space – it is still disconcerting to discover, as I did recently, your front door in high resolution on the web…
Perhaps this explains the schadenfreude that some people feel when they hear about motorists deposited in village ponds by their satnavs. The discovery of Argleton is part of the same reassertion of the local, the happy realisation that the world is not completely mappable, that not even Google knows as much as God or the people on the ground. The Argletonians are the contemporary equivalent of the apocryphal local leaning on a gate who, when asked directions by a motorist, sucks his teeth and says: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.”
While I understand and mostly agree with the sentiments of the author – I’m one of those people who enjoys correct maps. In fact, just a week ago, I corrected Google Maps record of a road ending in my neighborhood – which, as a matter of fact – had been extended by a group of neighbors with a borrowed backhoe and a free [somewhat decrepit] culvert pipe to join a nearby legitimate road. Quite illegally – but, now, it’s there.
I have traced disappeared roads – El Camino Real for example – via Google Earth. I love real places as much or more than imaginary – but, I guess I can support the Save Argleton campaign, too.