Start Your DeLoreans: Google's 'Time Machine' Gives Digital Proof of a Changing World

With images captured by Street View, the tech giant lets us see how a location changed between 2007 and 2013.
1200–1230 N. Larrabee St., Chicago, Ill., shown in 2007 and 2013. (Photo: Google Maps)
Apr 25, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Every time I head home to Chicago, I drive by the spot where I first met my husband. A couple of years ago I rounded a corner and discovered that the store we met in had been torn down and replaced by a big box retailer. I never snapped a photo of that shop for the memory books, but it turns out someone else had done it for me.

Yes, folks, if we need a reminder of days gone by, a new time machine–like feature from Google provides a chance to rewind the clock and check out just how much (or how little) our world has changed.

The feature, which is only available on the desktop version of Google Maps, compares imagery captured by Google Street View as far back as 2007 with pictures taken in 2013. You can swing through Manhattan or Brooklyn to see how gentrification has replaced mom-and-pop stores with chain retailers. Or head to Chicago to view how vacant lots left in the wake of the razing of the city’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects have been replaced by a run-of-the-mill Target store.

Google Street View product manager Vinay Shet wrote on the official Google blog that the DeLorean-like experience the new addition provides also enables us to see “a landmark's growth from the ground up.” Shet suggests we look at the construction of “the Freedom Tower in New York City or the 2014 World Cup Stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil.” Compiling the images, said Shet, also serves “as a digital timeline of recent history, like the reconstruction after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Onagawa, Japan.”

While that transformation is inspiring to see, there's no denying there's a creep factor to this. Big Brother really is watching and documenting everything around us. Then again, when our grandkids say, "Pictures, or it didn't happen," in response to our seemingly outlandish tales about what our neighborhoods used to look like, we’ll have photographic proof.