Technology imitating story imitating technology...

Reading this story in the Daily Mirror, I got the distinct sense that I was looking into one of those clever optical illusion paintings of a person looking in a mirror looking at a person inside a mirror, looking at a person inside a... well you know what I mean. The ones that seem to go on forever, one reality containing the next.

Here's the gist:

A young, poor boy in India visits a train station with his brother. He falls asleep on the train platform. When he awakes, his brother is nowhere in site, but the train has just pulled into the station, and the doors are open right in front of him. Naturally impressed by the yawning maw of the commuter train, a technological wonder that would intrigue any young boy, he makes the pure and childish assumption that his brother must have gotten on the train. He boards the train, which it turns out does not carry his brother (who was only getting snacks back at the station), and which bears him a thousand miles away from his village.

Lost to his family, reduced to begging in the streets, the little boy gets mercifully picked up by an orphanage, who arrange for him to be adopted by an Australian couple. He then makes the second most important journey of his life via another miraculous piece of technology - an airplane that bears him to his new home.

The boy grows up loved and happy - but never forgets his childhood village, his original mother, the life he had before he left. He has no memory of the name of the village, but can remember certain key landmarks. One day - he hears of a thing called Google Earth. He begins playing with this bit of technology - thinking maybe, just maybe if he uses it to follow the rail lines of India, he will find it: the place where it all began.

Anyone who has used Google Earth enough to find it lurchy and vaguely irritating will appreciate this young man's perseverance. India is a big place. There are a lot of similar looking villages. But he had a picture etched in his mind - and he just kept looking. Zooming in, scouting around, moving on.

And one day - he found it. He recognized a road. He zoomed in. He found his house. His childhood home. After a short delay - some email exhcnages - he boarded another plane and went home. The version of the story I read does not say whether he arrived by train - but if he had ANY sense of narrative arc whatsoever, I assume he did. Then - finding his home empty - he is guided around the corner by a kindly neighbour - and reunited with his mother, whom he recognizes, though she seems a lot taller now that he's a grownup. I further assume that he would have shown her - via Google Earth - where he grew up in Australia. I mean it would only be natural.

This seems like the end of the story - but it is not. Just as naturally -- a movie has to be made. Starring Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire - who else? And I can't help but wonder if the movie will inspire other lost, missing, transported or 'dislocated' kids to seek out their childhood haunts via this technology, to look back through a lens that less than a generation ago would have been non-existant, and act upon what they see there.

Then maybe we'll make another movie about that new phenomena. The life, tech, story, life, tech, story loop could go on for quite ahwile here. Already there are people out there who will investigate Google Earth 'mysteries' for you. This woman has a project called, "Diane Goes For You" where she gads about Europe, visiting specific "odd spots" and answering people's queries about unusual or mysterious things they've seen on Google Earth. Does this tree really float - are these guys doing a shady deal? Is that woman in distress?

But seriously. Google Earth to trace the faint childhood memory of a road, a town, a house. To take the unreality of an almost forgotten dream to the very real reunion and cold hard cash of a Hollywood movie deal. You could not make this stuff up.


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