Cameras, cameras, everywhere

When I was in Europe a couple weeks back, I was stunned by the profusion of video security cameras. They seemed to be everywhere. You couldn’t walk down the street without seeing half a dozen of them, angled for maximum viewable area. Are Europeans simply that more paranoid than Americans? Then, on the plane flight back, my in-flight novel (The Da Vinci Code) suggested that most of these cameras are actually decoys. Apparently Europeans are just better bluffers than Americans.

But when Boing Boing pointed me to Dan Gillmore’s article on the subject of cameraphones, I started to see the links. Now, apparently, Sprint will begin to sell a version of the Treo 600 without a camera, to alleviate corporate security concerns. Imagine, if you will, Abu Ghraib without digital cameras. It would have been a low-rate scandal at best, a rumor at worst. If only we could prevent the proliferation of these things, our privacy (and more importantly, our secrets) will be intact.

But Gillmore argues that such a thing is impossible: after all, cameras are only going to get smaller. Soon they could be embedded in our clothing, our eyeglasses. It will be difficult to go anywhere — the bathroom, the changing room, the bathhouse — without our every move being recorded on digital video.

Before we get too concerned about this potentially massive loss of privacy, consider first the “who cares” factor. When anyone can see everyone going to the bathroom, where’s the allure? If it’s impossible for any corporation to keep a trade secret, will the wheels of commerce screech to a halt? In a world where the leading dance craze involves simulated sex, who cares what their next door neighbor looks like when she’s trying on a bra?

Ubiquitous digital cameras have already begun to change our world; there’s little doubt that it will be difficult to turn back now. Yet one does wonder how far all this will go. Most pictures people take now aren’t worth looking at; will making it easier to take one mean the pictures will get better? How will this vast array of information get sorted through? It’s not like we can google a photo (Google’s “Image search” feature relies on the textual information surrounding the photo itself, not the image contained in a photo. Perhaps some day a true image search will be possible, but I suspect the noise-to-signal ratio will always be higher than with a standard Google search.). Yes, this technology will probably continue to change our world, and in ways we can’t even imagine today. But it doesn’t mean we should be afraid to go to the bathroom.

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