Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,

[PHOTO] "Prepare for the New Cameras-Everywhere World"

Inspired by the recent shocking New York Post front page photo showing a man minutes from death, Slate's Dan Gillmor writes about the future of photography in a world where the ability to take and share photographic images at high speed will be ubiquitous. There's a risk, Gillmor argues, that between the demand of mass audiences for all sorts of powerful images, the collapse of photography as an economically viable industry via free amateur images, and the development of panopticon-aiding photo recognition technologies, things might become rather unpleasant.

(Here in Toronto we've had just a taste of this sort of thing at work in relationship to the TTC, as some TTC riders who are angry at the performance of some TTC employees have taken and shared images (and video) of these employee performances.)

For example, the choices made by editors will still matter. Mass media are not going to disappear entirely. Even if we witness the demise of bottom-feeders (like the New York Post, which in this case put the subway picture on Page One with a lurid headline), we'll still have media organizations with reach and clout. Interestingly, there's been no outcry about the New York Times' decision to post a surveillance-camera shot of a man who's about to murder another man. The key differences are a) a passer-by didn't take the picture; b) the police are trying to find the murderer; and c) the Times didn't troll for readers with a seamy headline.

Over time, the more important choices will be made by the audience. Even if “mainstream media” (whatever that means) choose to behave with common decency, there will be no shortage of other outlets for gruesome pictures and videos that aren't legally obscene or (like child porn) just plain criminal. Not long after the 2001 terrorist attacks, major media outlets made the lockstep decision to stop airing videos of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center or people jumping from the burning towers. But these are easy enough to find online. With more and more videos, it will increasingly be up to you and me to make our own decisions.

Meanwhile, the role of the professional spot-news photographer won't merely change. It'll just about end. People in that business should be looking for new ways to make a living. As I wrote in my book Mediactive several years ago, a cameras-everywhere world makes it much more likely that an “amateur” will get the most newsworthy images. But because tabloid-style media will always have an audience, probably a big one, new kinds of content marketplaces are sure to emerge, giving non-pros a way to sell and license the most newsworthy material. Look for bidding wars will erupt for items that are sufficiently interesting or ugly or titillating.

The more important implications of the cameras-everywhere world are about the surveillance society we're creating. This isn't a new idea, of course, as any reader of George Orwell or David Brin knows. But the degree to which pessimists' fears are coming true is remarkable—and terrifying to anyone who cares in the least about liberty.

Online surveillance has gotten most of the recent attention, but it is also very likely that a variety of Big and Little Brothers will record us everywhere we go—eventually, with sound, too. Facial recognition and other techniques will mean that our every move will be trackable. The purveyors and adopters of this stuff like to say we have nothing to fear if we have nothing to hide. That's police-state mentality, but it's getting more common. Benjamin Franklin would be hooted down today for his famous and eternally right admonition, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Tags: internet, panopticon, photos, popular culture, social networking, technology, ttc
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