Surveillant Society

One aspect of the Egyptian uprising (among the others, most ongoing) that was overpowered by the wild acclamation of social media is something that has been quietly but powerfully changing societal norms over the last decade. It is simply the inclusion, on almost every mobile phone sold, of a digital camera. When 90% of the active population can, at any time, record an event they are witness to, and transmit it to the rest of the world instantly, many rules begin to change.

It’s not new, of course: “citizen journalism” has a long history before mobiles were prevalent, and the growing trend of “you report”-style news and things like Twitter streams in live reporting are as plain as the lens on your phone. And while I regularly deride the quality of camera phones, the truth is that improvements have been made that are now promoting phone-cams from joke cameras to true documentary devices.

What happens, exactly, when every individual is not only a node connected to a worldwide network, but is also able to take anything they see and cause it to be made public and (efforts are made in this direction) unable to be taken down? The consequences are complex and far-reaching, and we would do well to start thinking about them now.

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