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Another Step Towards the Participatory Panopticon
Jamais Cascio, 21 Mar 05

There are two major characteristics of the world I've called the "Participatory Panopticon:" personal mobile networked cameras are everywhere; and a significant portion of what we see and hear gets digitally recorded. The first part is more or less already here -- and now we have another step towards making the second part real.

Unmediated reports that an Israeli company, Natural Widget, is now selling an application which will automatically record your mobile phone conversations. Although it's apparently dependent upon the limited storage built into your phone (assuming you have the Nokia Series 60 phone it works with), the application is being sold for precisely the reasons which I've argued will lead us to a world where everything is seen, everything is recorded, and not by the government, but by us all.

NaturalRecorder brings effortless call recording to everyone, allowing to bring back any important information that happened during phone calls. [...] Never forget important information relayed by phone again. [...] Think of NaturalRecorder as an extension of your own (brain) memory: instead of remembering (hardly) the last 3 minutes of conversation, you'll always have a ready-to-use recording of as many minutes as you want (depending of your mobile phone memory - about 60 kilobytes per minute).

The obvious next step with this will be the ability to offload the recordings, initially to removable memory cards, then (as high-bandwidth mobile networks roll out) to remote storage on one's personal computer.

The need to hang onto copies of what sees or hears is one manifestation of an information saturated, "attention deficit" culture. We are hammered by so many sources of stimulation, many specifically designed to attract our attention, that relying solely on fallible human memory can be risky. This situation is, sadly, more likely to get worse than to get better -- efforts to reduce the amount of attention-grabbing stimulation in general often has the perverse result of heightening the effect of individual sources of stimulation. We're more apt to see further development of coping tools, such as devices to automatically record what we say, hear and see for later review.

The Participatory Panopticon won't arise out of a single, clear choice -- it will come from myriad smaller, rational decision and technologies, all intended to solve very real problems. It's important to recognize when we've moved further along this road of good intentions -- and to think hard about the ways in which we can make certain our eventual destination gives us more than it takes away.

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Comments

Is there a metadata specification for this type of recorded audio data? It strikes me that digital pictures have become an onerous thing to manage for many people because most pictures are never tagged up appropriately before being dumped onto a hard drive - either by the machines that take the pictures (time,date,gps coords, for instance) or the people that are doing the dumping.

So - how about a nice metadata spec, along the lines of originating name and number, time, date, call length, location where the call was received, etc, and then some user specified ID3 style information that could be quickly added on a usability limited cell phone - i.e.: "genre" - business, friends, parents, hot dates, etc.

The value to these recordings will come from this meta layer and the ability to find what you're looking for among the detritus of your digital lifestyle.


Posted by: Rod Edwards on 21 Mar 05

There isn't yet an ISO spec for it, but the metadata issue is being worked on.

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001540.html


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 21 Mar 05

Next step: the courts issue a subpoena for your phone and any recorded conversations stored in it. Saves them the trouble of wirelesstapping you if you do it for them.

Step after that: Nokia offers a new "feature", _AlwaysOn_ recording. "Now you don't have to remember to record a call; the phone does it for you automatically!" Included is a Patriot-III mandated backdoor that allows law enforcement to access your recordings without alerting you.


Posted by: Patrick Di Justo on 21 Mar 05



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