About UsResearchOpportunities
PublicationsResourcesSite Map

Like a small town

Of all worlds, the internet is perhaps the most utopian. It is a lot like a small town, or like the world that the early settlers established for themselves.
A small world getting smaller
Computer networks are often much like the small town where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. I can finger you and you can finger me. The same kind of openness in physical space would be unthinkable to some. When employers want to install a keycard system to monitor and record what time employees show up for work, etc, there is often outrage among privacy advocates. However, denizens of cyberspace have long accepted the ability of others to "finger" them and see when they last logged in, e.g. what time they left for the day. Communication in general makes the world a smaller place. The telephone made the world a smaller place. The computer is making it even smaller. New forms of communication will make the world smaller still.
Surveillance does not make for a small town

Proponents of video surveillance have often made the argument that video surveillance makes our big cities a lot like small towns where we lose our anonymity. Their analogy is flawed, however, and this flaw becomes evident if we compare the non-surveilled small town with the surveilled big city along the symmetry axis.

It is important to consider the privacy implications of NetCam. NetCam is an "overt" system, unlike the "covert" wearable video tape recording systems used in shows like "60 minutes". NetCam uses cameras that are out in the open, rather than hidden behind a baseball cap or the like. With NetCam it is pretty obvious to anyone in the vicinity that they are on camera.

In fact, one might be able to make a good case for everyone wearing a NetCam, based on privacy issues. More and more we are surrounded by smart light switches, smart furniture, smart machines, smart faucets, smart toilets, etc. IBM recently proposed the smart floor. It seems that we ourselves are falling behind in smartness. Perhaps people ought to be at least as smart as their environment. Perhaps it is high time we wear smart clothes.

As the world around us gets smarter and smarter, tracking our every movement, we should acquire at least a non-zero amount of smartness ourselves, if we are to maintain fairness and symmetry. Though we cannot hope to ever be as smart as our world, we can tip the balance a little more toward the center thereby striving for a reasonable balance between surveillance cameras and wearable cameras.