A Thousand Points of View

You may have heard about the LA Times’ discovery that one of its war photographers had photoshopped a couple of images together “to improve the composition.” The Times summarily fired him and several bloggers have been wondering how much of the rest of what we see is fake. (Login name and password = “useless”)

Tim Bray writes,

“This really raises a deeper issue: are photographs, in this digital day, useful evidence in establishing the truth? I think they remain useful, here’s why.

Just a few days before the war started, there was a demonstration in San Francisco that got ugly and the police ended up arresting a lot of people. There wasn’t much news coverage, and I was poking around a bit to figure what had happened. It turns out that Lisa Rein had posted a whole bunch of video of the event, which I watched, but can no longer find on her site, although she’s got lots of other demonstration footage.

What really impressed me about the video, aside from how unhappy the cops looked, was the incredible profusion of recording devices in the crowd. It seems like every second person had a digicam or videocam or something; a thousand little bright silver flashes of digital memory.

Now suppose that one of the demonstrators or one of the cops or a passing motorist had had a psychotic episode and someone had ended up dead. The evidence from any one of those digital devices, turned in the next day by an attendee, would be essentially useless. But if the crucial events were captured independently by two or three (and it’s pretty obvious that they would have been), then if someone was trying to doctor the evidence you’d know, and it’s easy to believe that the digital record could be a major help in establishing the truth.

That is to say, at the same time as the advances in digital manipulation technology make any one instance less trustworthy, the increasing ubiquity of digital recording technology more than compensates.”

It looks like Tim is describing the proliferation of ubiquitous PFRs–Personal Flight Recorders, unobtrusively streaming our captured video to our private repository and sharing them at will:

If you can spell S-O-N-Y, you know what’s around the corner:

  • Picture Phones will become Video Phones.
  • Video Phones will be connected into the wireless mesh.
  • Audio/Video capture will be unobtrusive, separated from the phone as the microphone is today. (We’ll be stealthy without being sneaky)
  • Copyright holders won’t like it, but we will have the right to capture anything we witness.
    (another of the many things they don’t like about the future)
  • We will replay and share any part of our personal history we choose to.
  • Within n years, more people will have PFRs than not.

On the same theme, Ming blogged yesterday about a Salon article by Sheldon Pacotti. Pacotti is properly concerned about the surveillence society enabled by Constitution-bashers like the little bible thumper Ashcroft, enabling an industry of people whose job is to watch us:

“The computer-networked, digital world poses enormous threats to humanity that no government, no matter how totalitarian, can stop. A fully open society is our best chance for survival.”

Ming concurs:

“Yeah, I agree. There’s really no way of stopping it, so we need to expand our collective ability to solve problems, our collective intelligence, at least as fast as the speed that new technologies are developed at. The author talks about various sectors of society where governments might think they ought to hold on to all the knowledge. Like, surveillance. If there are cameras everywhere, do we trust government agencies with deciding what to do with what they see? No, of course not. If there has to be surveillance, the only safe thing is if it easily available to all of us.

” If we must submit to a surveillance society, I think it is clear that an open network, in which no group, agency, or individual is privileged over any other, would lead to a society with a superior character than one in which the citizens remain separate from and observed by the government. Better for us all to be able to watch one another than for the “authorities” to monopolize this power and leave us with only the fear.” (Pacotti)

Although Flemming goes on to follow Pacotti’s concerns about the spread of “dangerous ideas” like nanotech and nukes and gasses, but I’m most interested in the vision of a surveillance industry so overwhelmed and outclassed by the collective record that it has no useful product to sell. Sorta like a guy on the street corner peddling an 80/20 nitrogen/oxygen mix.

Peer Brother is Watching You (from 2/15/03)

That inevitable future may seem bleak, but perhaps only because we haven’t got our head around the effect of decentralized peer-based surveillance. Intermediaries always act contrary to the interests of those for whom they intermediate, so we assume that a video-archived future is through corporate and government surveillance serving the interests of those powerful enough to control the “public” record. That is not what Peer Surveillance will be like.

We cannot predict what shape the Peer Surveillance culture will take, but there’s ample precedent. It will probably  be like a small village where everyone knows everyone else’s business and gossips about what’s most aberrant. Historically, the intrusiveness of busybodies varied inversely with the population of the village. With the whole world capturing the activities of, well, the whole world, maybe we’ll become more tolerant of our peccadilloes as they become so common that they’ll be uninteresting, like chair-throwing on Jerry Springer or hot-tubbing on reality TV.

Perhaps the most chilling effect of the Peer Surveillance culture will be on guilt and whining. We may find that the sins and guilt we carry with us are simply not that rare, outrageous or, worst of all, interesting. Perhaps then we’ll learn to be of real use to each other, and productivity will be the norm rather than the burden of the overtaxed few.

Take Away: The PFR is a HUGE watershed change. We will all be visible, obvious and accou
ntable, not to Big Brother, but to each other. Digital accountability trumps anonymity and is likely to impose small-town values on urban communities. The accountability meme will seep into our thinking and may inspire us to be civilized without having to be religious. As real-life cause and effect becomes as common as reality TV, we’ll discover together that things actually do make sense and don’t require superstitious thinking.


10:34:20 PM    

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