Total Surveillance, the Home Version


A few years ago, National Geographic asked me to look into the world of surveillance. We set out to document how Big Brothery the world was becoming.

We certainly confirmed everyone's suspicion that governments and big corporations are increasing their surveillance on employees and citizens. But we also found that surveillance is becoming a mass consumer phenomenon. Individuals are now able to record almost everything in their lives, and are doing it more and more -- as we see every day on YouTube. We are tracking ourselves.

It seemed obvious then that it was only a matter of time before recording technologies would get so portable and cheap that all of life everywhere would be recorded: total surveillance.

Today, we are one step closer. Meet the Looxcie, a tiny, $200 wearable camera that literally never stops recording. In fact, it doesn't even have a record button. It simply records all the time, storing hours of footage and continuously replacing the oldest footage with the newest footage. Press a button when something noteworthy happens and it will save the last 30 seconds automatically. It's also a Bluetooth earpiece for a phone.


I'm guessing that this will not be as big as the iPhone in 2010 or 2011, but it seems pretty clear that we are inching toward the moment where always-recording will be so easy and cheap that it will become the default. Always-on cameras will be built into street-lamps, car bumpers, wall-clocks, even hats and sunglasses. There will be a big creep factor to this, but also a social benefit. I think certain types of pre-meditated crime could become a thing of the past. Crimes of passion will still happen, but things like muggings, car theft and even rape could become obsolete. Are you going to consciously attack someone who is almost certainly recording you?

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David Shenk is a writer on genetics, talent and intelligence. He is the author of Data Smog, The Forgetting, and most recently, The Genius In All of Us. More

David Shenk is the author of six books, including Data Smog ("indispensable"—The New York Times), The Immortal Game ("superb"—The Wall Street Journal), and the bestselling The Forgetting ("a remarkable addition to the literature of the science of the mind."—The Los Angeles Times ). He has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, and National Public Radio. Shenk's work inspired the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary The Forgetting and was featured in the Oscar-nominated feature Away From Her. His latest book, The Genius In All Of Us, was published in March 2010. Shenk has advised the President's Council on Bioethics and is a popular speaker. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

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