War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.
In the discourse about surveillance, the Big Brother trope is king. Popular culture provides us with recognizable scripts in which to locate our own anxieties and uncertainties about the present, even though the reality of everyday life is often more complex and paradoxical than can be explained by way of simple metaphors. Ongoing revelations about state-sponsored surveillance of the citizenry also signify that top-down relations of watching and monitoring are alive and well. Think of the Bush administration’s wiretapping of American citizens (see James Bamford’s excellent piece in The Atlantic, “Big Brother is Listening”), or recent reports that the British government is seeking to expand its surveillance capabilities to include monitoring of personal telephone, Internet use and email, all in the name of the global war on terror.
Despite the popularity with which we link discussions about surveillance to Orwellian nightmares, the practices and technologies that enable us to watch and be watched are diverse. Individualized modes of surveillance have been around for some time and have become ubiquitous: computer cookies, GPS in our cars, dietary regimes linked to online weight management services, and Health Watch initiatives in certain drug store chains are just a few examples of surveillance systems that do not immediately correspond with the notion that the powerful few are keeping watch over powerless who are many.
Despite the proliferation of personalized monitoring schemes, surveillance has arguably never been so chic. Thanks to enabling software developed by the Australian technology company, Zylotech, and the always creative and clever folks at Apple, you can now become your own private Ministry of Truth. While the U.S. and British cases noted above reveal that vertical relations of surveillance remain firmly entrenched, lateral surveillance now has a new look and feel. With the ‘One-Touch’ Smart G camera technology, Zylotech offers consumers secure surveillance of their personal property via their iPhone.
According to Zylotech CEO, Nicholas Sikiotis, the product (which will retail for approximately $700) allows users to enable their iPhone to monitor geographical spaces (e.g. personal property) in real time. Using a “one-touch” icon request via the phone’s main menu, users can receive instant camera or pre-determined video snapshots of their homes or businesses – ever wonder if the mail carrier is snooping or if the nasty neighbour’s dog is treating your hibiscus like a fire hydrant? Now you can see with just a slide and click.
It’s true that personalized surveillance systems (particularly for home monitoring) is not new, and the Zylotech invention isn’t the creepiest example of how we are all becoming approximations of Big Brother. This article from the Chicago Sun Times reports that a Chicago man recently became the first to willingly link up his private home surveillance network to the city’s 911 emergency center after city officials publicly offered citizens the chance to participate in a creating “a panoramic view of disaster scenes.”
Nevertheless, the Zylotech enhanced iPhone may very well be the first example of a consumer product that combines the power of entertainment, immediate access to people and information and the capacity to monitor and watch. It’s time we flip Orwell on his head and take up Mark Crispin Miller’s argument, now 20 years old: “as you watch, there is no Big Brother out there watching you. Big Brother is you, watching.”