Attention iPhone users: Your day has arrived. There’s now an “app” you can integrate with and accomplish something useful. I know that killing time with your phone in your lap is “useful” in a broad 21st century definition, and to be honest “citizen reporting” may not immediately sound as exciting as being able to play Yahtzee with your phone. But stay with me… I’m seeing some very interesting scenarios up the road.
You probably know that our city is web-tastic with wireless Internet access floating through our air (and the cells of our bodies), but there’s also a program called GO Santa Monica that utilizes CRM technology (citizen relationship management) for cell phones. Essentially, there’s now an applet for your iPhone that includes photo wrangling and GPS causing you to be able to take a phone photo of, say, some pothole street damage or maybe a tree distressed after a storm… and after hitting SEND the applet sees to it that the right department in our city government gets your digital citizen photo report. It’s a nudge to city government with pictures and you don’t ever have to be on hold listening to Captain and Tennille songs.
The iPhone applet is the latest enhancement to GO Santa Monica, which features technology from a company with the name Government Outreach, Inc. There are plans to develop similar mobile applications for other handheld devices. While “Government Outreach, Inc.” sounds like something from a future-gone-bad movie starring Charlton Heston, the company actually has the best intentions of circumventing the paper work jam-ups that slow city government responses to citizen needs.
But am I taking too deep a hit off the paranoia pipe when I note that, officially, we’ve now got a system in place that allows citizens to photograph anything… and send the evidence on to city departments? True, it’s mostly just a phone call with a picture attachment, but… isn’t it just a tweak away from using the technology for citizen connectivity to the police? And again, right out of the box, that might be a fantastic tool for all involved. Until such time as a neighbor with their nose out of joint about my electric guitar playing decides to send applet pictures of me at the backyard birthday party we threw for a nephew, subject-lined “Pedophile next door.”
I’m just saying that there are some of us that still struggle with a modern world of surveillance, although our numbers are probably shrinking. Our shared perception of news and events is now completely shaped by video. Simply hearing about an earthquake in Haiti elicits one kind of response. Viewing the video feed brings on another, followed by the dramatic narrative of “live” reporters mixed with video, and on to the mix of video with pop music performances resulting in donations. Considering that scenario, one sounds absolutely Luddite in even pondering a world with less image technology rather than more.
And then there’s the surveillance Hall of Fame that we all celebrate and even visit with regularity: The Zapruder film, the Rodney King video, hospitals caught dumping homeless patients on downtown streets, even that footage of David Hasselhoff drunkenly eating a cheeseburger… and so on. We’ve come to view a world without privacy as a largely good thing because of the number of times it’s been related to bringing about justice or positive change of some sort. Our current appetite for documentary films supports contemporary belief that seeing is fact and that pictures will inform and even protect us.
Be assured, I completely accept the application of modern technology to improve citizen/government interface. But that’s now, with the good sense we’re all using right now. It’s at this point that I’d like to introduce my father, who said the following many years ago: “I don’t like cable TV. Because once they’ve connected that wire to your house, there’s not much they’d have to do to make your TV set a transmitter rather than a receiver.” He didn’t live to see all of America delighted to pay handsomely every month for just such a hook-up.
Little cameras are changing our world in direct and important ways. Watch the DVD of the powerful film The Cove to see how small camera and wireless technology combined with gutsy environmental activism to reveal an atrocity of dolphin slaughter. But we often move forward and adopt surging technological capabilities way before we begin to angst in any way about potential blowback or unintended consequences. Our city is modern and open-minded and we’re going to get to a lot of things first before, say, Oshkosh Wisconsin does. But as it stands now I could be innocently walking past a pothole and end-up in a photo taken with the best intentions; a photo that reveals me scratching myself in a bothered nether region when I thought no one was looking. If that activity is somehow more compelling than the pothole, I’m not sure what city department will end up getting that photo.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com