Remember the movie The Truman Show, where Jim Carrey's life was secretly filmed and broadcast to the world? Maybe Western students should have been paying more attention.
From Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window to the recently released Enemy of the State, the voyeuristic tendencies of humans have been a part of popular culture for decades, with an emphasis on fuelling the social paranoia of the watchful eyes of Big Brother. However, with computer technology constantly improving, Big Brother has manifested himself into anyone with access to the internet.
An engineering student has installed a video camera in the Social Science Centre which takes continuous pictures of the Concrete Beach and posts them on the internet. There is no real reason for the set-up no secret study conducted behind closed doors, no undercover government operation, just a guy with an extra camera and computer who thought it would be fun to circulate the beach on the web.
As innocent as it may seem, the problems which underlie the issue go beyond one man's pastime and cross into matters concerning the entire community.
This particular instance at Western involves a fairly low-tech camera which delivers pictures with low resolution. However, if one person has posted a camera on campus, what's to stop others from doing the same? And what's to say other instances won't involve better cameras with better technology capable of invading an individual's privacy?
Taking advantage of a public space to film any of its inhabitants is a trend which could quickly turn from harmless to dangerous. The oversight lies in assuming it is only the space which is monitored. In reality, every person who walks within that camera's frame is being recorded and thereby subject to observation. Anyone with internet access can learn the whereabouts and direction of an individual, therefore putting their safety at an increased and unnecessary risk.
If an interactive web site was desired by the university, it would have been better used to observe classroom learning or special campus events. However, the Concrete Beach cam and those like it are only used to observe others.
The fascination with other people's lives is a human tendency driven by the compulsion to constantly compare someone else to themselves. While it may be too late to extinguish this need completely, it's not too late to keep it from spinning out of control as a direct threat to society.
It's time to take a break from this mad dash in technology to consider not just what we could do, but what we should do.