Instagram + GPS = Cities, Now

A new site shows the beauty of cities around the world. But it also reminds us of the redefinition of privacy

A new site, This is Now, takes photographs from Instagram which are tagged with GPS data, and uses them to show you what is happening in nine cities around the world right now. So Las Vegas is full of drunk people:

Sydney is full of delightful dinners in the evening sun:

And London, inevitably, is all Olympics, all the time:

Two points come to mind. Firstly, this is beautiful. Everyone knows that different cities have different characters, and that that character changes radically throughout the day, but it's hard to demonstrate that short of actually living somewhere. Being able to view the stream of photos posted to instagram really does make those personalities clear, and because its pictures rather than text, it does so in a format you can actually absorb and engage with, rather that being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of data in front of you.

But secondly, how many of these people actually knew that we'd all be seeing their photos when they posted them? Not that there are - as yet - any particularly embarrasing pictures on the streams, at least none that I've seen. But there are people with very few followers who nonetheless ping up, and who can't have expected that people they would never meet will be looking at their holiday snaps from the Olympics. It's a stark reminder that unless something is explicitly private on the internet, it's public.

It doesn't matter if you have no followers on Instagram, if the URL of your blog is only shared with a few family members, or if your flickr account is only used for hosting images for forums: that stuff is public, and you should assume that people you don't know will see it. In fact, you should assume that people you do know, but don't want to see it, will see it. Privacy is not the default, but the exception. This is the way of the world, now.

In this case, at least, we've traded privacy for beauty. Was it worth it?

Some images from Sao Paulo

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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