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Crossing lines

6:59:00 AM 
REM wraps up/consciousness begins.

6:59:30 AM 
Reach for phone

When I was little, I used to like to think about a giant map that traced the steps of every human on Earth. I wanted to see where people’s lives intersected, to find the coincidences of two souls passing on the street before meeting in a different city, country, or hemisphere 20 years later. I pictured it as a beautiful jumble, with little or no space left untraced (except for maybe parts of northern Greenland). Some of this inter­section is intentional (we meet someone and like this person and intersect our life with his or hers at planned intervals). Some is conscious but not intentional (work colleagues or extracurricular peers). Some is unconscious and uninten­tional (people we may not even see on the T, street, or in a restaurant).

If we bump into people enough, sometimes we befriend them, marry them, or start taking a different route to work.

Thanks to Google Maps’ Location History, one of my childhood dreams has more or less come true. My phone is tracing the steps of every minute of every day of my life, probably since about 2012. So is yours. 

As long as we have location services enabled on our phones, and as long as we have our phones glued to our hands and faces, our personal maps are being drawn at rapid speed. And apparently saved for discretionary use! (That’s for another article.)

On a typical day, the location services on my phone are really leaning in. If I take a photo of how my succulent plants are doing and text it to my mom, it is saved with the heading “Boston–Downtown Crossing.”

If I were using a dating app, the app would be constantly tracking my location and matching me with hypothetical gentlemen within a radius that I would have determined — hypothetically.

I take between two and four Ubers a day, between two and six T rides a day, and I break out Google Maps for finding the best walking, T, or driving route — between three and 10 times a day. This all takes place within a five-mile radius.

To get to my office in South Boston, I take the T from my home in downtown Boston. There are few days when I don’t have at least two meetings outside the office, often back-to-back. Some combination of Google Maps, Uber, and the T gets me there and back. As a developer, I am looking at maps and satellite views and plans throughout the day. I’m pretty sure Google Maps has figured out my secret projects.

Around 6:30 or 7, my evening activities in Boston or Cambridge begin and often include a work-related dinner, a board meeting, an organization’s event, a date, or sometimes a second late-night dinner with my friends or colleagues; my steps and intersections are all being mapped.

I don’t claim to have uncovered anything profound here, but I do think there is a sweetness and a smallness to humanity in the way we scurry around, often in a rush and always overlapping with one another, to get to the destinations we choose. And of course we are making and crossing paths, whether or not we are carrying a phone, as long as we are moving. Our personal maps evolve as our lives do, and as technology does. The maps in our phones can be plotted and saved. The saved locations show us where we have been and where we are going. ■

T.I.M.E — Tears In My Eyes, Jiyen Lee, 2011.
Video still; full HD; looping; 1 minute, 3 seconds.
Image: Courtesy of the artist