Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Candid Camera World

Smile. You're on Candid Camera.

The CNN news anchor said this morning, "The average Londoner is photographed 300 times per day." The world is a stage, at least in London.

These photographs and video feeds come from cameras on posts, light poles, traffic signals, and automobiles. Some cameras are hidden, some are blatantly public.

See for yourself what Times Square looks like, right at this moment.

Recognize anyone?

The web page linked to in the paragraph above, in addition to showing an ongoing real-time view of people in Times Square, New York, has a map showing the locations of about 8 other Times Square webcams through which you can view that world. As a person walks down the street, you can almost stalk them as they move from one webcam to the next. You can be Big Brother.

The tapestry of the views all these cameras collect is usually stored on tape. Although every frame of this video has a known time and location, one cannot access a tape quite like a hard drive. It needs to be mounted and run forward to allow review of what was seen at some particular instant. It is not so easy to follow a person on tape as it is using the real-time web cameras.

More than that, these tapes are not uniformly accessible. The video can come from many sources, many of them commercial, and from many different types of cameras. You can not follow the movement of a person from camera to camera as easily on these tapes as you can in real-time on the webcams. Tracing a person's movements is not yet a piece of cake.

For the growing number of cities that have free city-wide wifi, standalone webcams on light poles and traffic signals will want to appear. Will their signal be available to the public? Will you be able to check for traffic before you leave for work? Will your mom watch over you as you drive along and call you at work about running that red light? Will the police be waiting when you arrive at work?

Will only the police be watchers, or can everyone watch?

Tomorrow's webcam databases will store their video data on direct access storage devices, just like today's home movie producers and reproducers who store their video on their home computer's hard drive. Accessing these databases will be a piece of cake. Any nemesis with access will be able to chart your every move, both yesterday and today.

Know that you are being watched. Any move you make may be before a camera. What to do, what to do? What to say to all the future viewers who may be watching this moment?


Fake them out? Put on a good show? Smile and remember that even God is watching? Model the behaviours you hope the watchers will choose for themselves?

You can only be yourself. Seen in all your glory. Paranoia is inefficient. Wave to the crowd, Your Highness.

You can only be yourself. But now you may have to someday justify and defend what you have been. So you must own your government. Because it owns you.

Whether earth is a jail or a garden is up to the prisoners.


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