Random Musings
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
This might really be more appropriate for my Technology blog but it occurs to me that the proliferation of cell phones was a big step in society. Both forward and backwards.

Forwards in that it gave people tremendous freedom and tremendous security. You can go anywhere and still be able to stay in contact. Get a flat tire by the side of the road? You can call the auto club without having to trudge a mile to the nearest callbox or find a gas station that has a pay phone. Witness a crime? 9-1-1 is right there in your pocket.

Backwards in the same way that most mobile technologies infringe upon our lives. It's harder to get away from the phone now. Sure, you can turn it off or ignore it, but it doesn't seem like many people do that. People are working longer hours because now they can work from the car or the patio or the restaurant with their cell phone and laptop and PDA and...

Now we've stepped forward into the next generation: Camera phones.

They have all of the advantages and drawbacks of their less sophisticated ancestors but they have an added advantage: anybody can document the world around them at any time. Privacy advocates are up in arms about this. "I could be photographed standing on the street corner without my knowledge!" Yes. You could before too. That happens in public places sometimes. Think of the advantage to society, though...

A few months ago I spotted a suspicious looking van down the street from my house late at night and I saw the occupants of that van go into a construction area that they clearly didn't belong in. I called the police. Anticipating that the suspects might leave before the police could arrive, I strolled down the street as if going for an evening constitutional. As I passed their van I recorded the license plate number into my PDA.

Sure enough several minutes later the suspects came back out, piled into their van and left...minutes before the police could arrive. But I had the license plate number and a description of the van and armed with that information the police were able to figure out who owned it and begin the process of tracking them down. That was good...but imagine if I had a camera phone and could have taken a picture of the van and a picture of the license plate and maybe even gotten a picture of the suspects.

Digital cameras and camera phones are a boon to Neighborhood Watch groups everywhere. This cuts both ways, of course. Get into a car accident? Take pictures with your camera phone to establish what the scene actually looked like. Ask Rodney King if the proliferation of cameras in society is a good thing. It's getting to the point where if anybody sees something important....everybody can see it.

That's good.


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