Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Look Up and Say Cheese

Back in the 1960s I liked to watch one of the original reality shows on TV, Candid Camera with host Allen Funt. It caught people by surprise when they found out they had been a victim of a practical joke on camera.

There have been several incarnations of the show since its original series, including an adult-themed version on pay TV. And now, television is full of real-life shows that capture real people doing real things. There are police chase shows, family home video shows, and shows featuring “amazing” videos of people doing dangerous and stupid things.

Over the last 10 years or so, the Internet has made it possible for anyone to see a picture of almost anywhere at anytime. There are so-called Web cams by the thousands. Yes, I have a couple of them myself. They’re always on.

Almost every place of business uses small cameras placed in strategic locations as a means of security. It is virtually impossible to go into any store or bank without being on one of their “candid cameras.”

And now, it is possible to get onto the Internet and see a satellite image of almost anywhere in the United States. Last week, introduced a service that lets users zoom right down to house level from the sky high eyes that orbit the earth continuously.

Formerly, the service, known as Keyhole, was used by government agencies and certain businesses. Subscribers had to pay for the ability to zoom in from above. But acquired the service six months ago and is now offering it free to the public at

Like other map services on the Internet, you are first taken to a road map of the area you want. But a link on the page allows you to switch instantly to a satellite view. You can zoom in by several levels, even to the point of being able to pick out individual homes in certain areas, primarily cities.

In rural areas and for small towns, you can only zoom down to city block level and it’s difficult to make out individual houses. believes the service will be useful for those who want to check out an entire neighborhood before moving in, or to see how close a hotel really is to a beach. Some critics claims there is a potential to violate privacy, but the satellite images are at least six months old, and you can’t zoom in to see individual people anyway.

Besides, there are always critics of every new technology. I tend to ignore them.

Cameras are everywhere. There is a camera in every hallway at the school where I teach. The movement of the students is recorded on a hard disk drive and can be accessed by school police at any time. It’s a great way to keep students in line.

You can use your computer to tune into a live video feed of Times Square in New York, 24 hours a day. You can even see close ups of people shopping in one of the stores. One of my brothers even used it to see a live video image of a friend he was talking to on his cell phone while the friend was visiting New York.

With the new cell phone cameras and, now, video cameras, there is no place you can go in public without the possibility of being photographed. Most people take it in stride. They realize that the security afforded by some of these cameras is worth the loss of some privacy.

Personally, I think it’s pretty cool stuff. Say cheese!

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