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If everyone constantly filmed

December 30, 2016

One of my problems with the series Black Mirror is, as its name suggests, its terminally bleak viewpoint. The fiction series looks at the impact of potential technological advances and their effect on society.

In one episode, characters constantly recorded their daily life for memory aid. The outcome of this was discord and unhappiness, but this isn’t an accurate evaluation of how the technology would be. There are many advantages. Objective visual aid memory could be great as simply a fact verifier for witness accounts or record keeping. This can help in a number of social areas.

Crime and Punishment

It’s been shown that when people feel observed, especially recorded, they tend to behave better. If this is the everyday default, there is no way that an individual can be victimised for choosing to record the behaviour of others. This is is what currently happens now when someone records a crime on a smartphone and is caught doing it.

Moreover, if the information is automatically updated to a private cloud account which police can access under the right circumstances, there would be no value to murdering eyewitnesses.

We irrationally hate the idea of being “observed” like this, even though we are observed every day, with or without technology. If integrated recording is so much the norm that it is assumed to be occurring constantly from all sides, I see it being a great deterrent for public crimes. Public crimes are often spontaneous, and spontaneous crimes are often the most violent.

Although it’s possible that totalitarian governments could use recorded information to keep tabs on people, Big Brother style, the real question is what observation is used for. This is entirely down to the framework of the society. In a flawed society, technological innovations neither consistently improve or worsen human rights. It merely changes the manner of violations and reparations. This happens with any change in culture, and is not directly reliant on technology itself.

In contrast, an open democracy can gather a vast quantity of information without anyone coming to harm from it, because the choice to use the information for harm is not freely anyone’s. Blackmail is illegal, no matter what evidence you’ve got. Holding people against their will for information on anything other than a crime is against the law.

Law and Order

People in positions of public power, just as police and prison offers, could be scrutinised for misconduct and would also have an easier time monitoring prisoners, suspects and protected witnesses. In many systems, the behaviour of powerful people is a big concern. The recent ability to immediately globalise unethical conduct has helped national attention focus on these institutions.

These, too, are subject to seizure of recording materials. It’s a legal grey area, in the UK – people have the right to record arrests, but must give up evidence of crimes to by the police, if ordered. This is so police have instant access to important evidence. However, because it means surrendering materials, the holder then loses their access to evidence which could be used against the police themselves.

Information that is recorded and immediately placed on cloud storage is automatically accessible online. As a result, it is instantly duplicatable via tweaking of access options. This removes any excuse for corrupt authorities to physically remove evidence of their own crimes from a member of the public, restricting them from public viewing.

What effect would this have on courts? With every year, more information appears online that could affect a jury decision, hence why they are instructed not to check it. More people than ever are critical of the idea that juries, as with regular people, should not be allowed to view video evidence over which little doubt has been cast. Some feel that if courts ignore what people see with their own eyes, they are not doing their job. Court processes are, after all, open so that they can be scrutinised.

One concern is how reliable and verifiable the information is. Much of what media report that could be held in contempt of court regards unreliable suggestions of guilt. However, if it were possible to mark raw footage as untampered using an algorithm built into the program, the video would not be a “suggestion” but simply evidence that anyone can view.

I foresee that it would not take long for someone for one of the major information corporations such as Google to come up an algorithm that confirms footage to be “raw”, i.e., untampered with – even cutting scenes or cropping, which may cut key witnesses from the frame or create a false impression of events by editing out the actions of one individual.

You could make the argument that, since raw recordings are automatically factual, they are not “prejudicing” a jury. Further, a jury should not necessarily only be exposed to the evidence that the counsel thinks is appropriate.

Privacy and National Security

We have increasingly noticed the need for openness following several controversies about official secrecy. Parliament now films everything in open court, committed as it is to open government. There is some thought that if everything is open, there will be breaches in national security, and that the public will mishandle the information.

To take these in turn, privacy for the sake of national security should be the exception rather than the rule and therefore warrants close scrutiny – which it would get, in the fully public world of constant filming. It would be so unusual to require closed court or private official spaces, the questions surrounding it would be loud.

Loud enough that, to avoid controversy and inconvenience, people in charge do not make proceedings private just for the sake of it. We’re inclined to take whatever privileges we can – if someone offers you the freedom to make your decisions without scrutiny, you tend to take it. That doesn’t mean it should be taken. The pressure of public suspicion makes authority think twice about taking it, because it makes closed proceedings harder rather than easier.

Re public mishandling of information, it happens everyday; people get hold of half the facts, form a biased response and immediately petition the government or create a large amount of pressure for a referendum. Public misinformation is the responsibility of educating bodies, and the more drive there is to fix it, the better educated society can become.

While the internet does create a lot of noise, including back and forth debate that goes nowhere and blurs the facts. Yet it has also helped prove that a politician has misspoke or lied. Videos give a horses mouth version that is indisputable.

Social Intelligence

But where does everyday media go after it is recorded – can’t it be misused? Well, I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. There are many non-criminal activities we feel embarrassed to be seen doing, certainly. The question is why.

There’s a good chance that the answer is fear of judgement. This judgement shouldn’t exist, because the behaviour is normal or at least somewhat common. Even if it is unusual, it should be considered nothing more than testament to the breadth of human experience, if it is not demonstrably immoral.

Except, “unusual” acts are more common than we know, given our instinct to hide and deny whatever about ourselves we fear may be unusual. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy; what we choose to hide becomes considered unusual.

The anonymous access to endless information on the internet has helped people get a clearer picture of how many other people are just like them. The media that feeds the internet increases exponentially when life is routinely filmed. If everything was laid bear, it’s possible we would be forced to be less judgemental, because everyone, including the most hypocritical people, would be laid bare.

For example, one young man experiencing a bipolar meltdown on the tube was filmed and it was uploaded to YouTube. Many viewers were unkind in their comments, but this compelled him to tell his story and allowed others to highlight how much misinformation and prejudice there is against people with mental health disorders.

Unmissable Moments in History

Constant filming allows us to record positive activity that may only be seen once. At the moment, we rely on the right person at the right time being in the right place with a smartphone at the ready. If they never had to think about recording, if it just happened, we wouldn’t miss something important just because someone had gloves on and couldn’t press the shutter in time. There are a lot of operational difficulties in intentional cinematography.

Wouldn’t constant filming create an awful lot of useless old crap on the internet? Ha, look around. There’s so much already, yet we somehow manage to filter it all out. Personally, I’d rather once-in-a-lifetime, flash-in-the-pan experiences went viral than endless recycling of the same image with various captions. Quality, newsworthy images get a fair airing, if they’re around. We stand to have many more of them if we record everything.

Mainstream Media Power Drain

A bonus of this raw information is that it was free from media spin. Whatever its other advantages, the media can choose to spin information however they like. The raw materials allows people to make their own evaluations. The input of many allows multiple interpretations from people with different experiences. The result is often that a clearer, fairer picture emerges than what subeditors may mock up to generate interest.

That is the value of audiovisual information; juxtaposing conflicting claims and information. It reduces the amount of hearsay and takes information back to source. Compare that to hearing from a friend, who read it in a digest; which got it from a tabloid, which got it from Reuters; which got it from an organisation, which got it from the original source.

As a trained journalist, I wouldn’t advocate a wholesale move to citizen journalism over traditional journalism, but I think raw material forces journalists to be more accurate. Giving the fourth estate some restraints – like, for example, the indisputable truth – can only improve it. Anyone who doubts it can check the source itself, which bridges the gap of distrust between media producers and consumers.

Advancement of Human Common Sense

In Black Mirror, characters used visual memory aid to best one another in arguments. In short, they weren’t very mature. Just because you have the technology, that doesn’t mean you’ll use it in that way. Once you figure out that it’s negatively effecting your relationships, you can always, um, stop doing it. As opposed to ripping the implant out of your head.

Societies tend to adapt to the problems they have, not simply become suckers for them. We have endless articles about how people are spending “too much” time on their phones – articles more reminiscent of moral panics than scientific articles. If anything, we worry overmuch about the effects of technology, and think that every change in culture as a result of it must be rotting our brains and relationships, when in fact it is just making them different. People fear changes in culture, they fear difference.

Technological aids are about access, not encroachment. Humans have the ability and inclination to choose when technology will be helpful and when it will be a hindrance. Trusting technological advancements, to some extent, is just another way of trusting our judgement, as individuals and as a species.

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