First Click: it’s hard to dance with the whole world watching

April 23rd, 2015

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The oft-quoted line “you’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching” originates from a country song written in 1987. That’s 20 years before the iPhone would go on sale and create an explosion of digital imagery thanks to its built-in camera.

Now that most of the world has a smart camera it’s getting harder and harder to pretend nobody's watching.

Last year, a16z's Benedict Evans did a fascinating comparison of modern day photography and the film camera business at its 1999 peak. According to Evans, people were posting Over 1.5 billion new photos every day on Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat, equating to about 550 billion images a year on those services alone — over 1 trillion images if all services were factored in, or about 1.5 per smartphone per day. In 1999, Kodak estimated that only 80 billion photos were taken worldwide. Although Evans didn't find any data on videos, by all accounts, moving pictures have followed a similar progression.

Try as we may, knowing our activities are being recorded has a way of altering behavior. Knowing that a music track will be shared on Facebook makes us pause before listening to Super Freak, unironically. Wearing a body camera makes a dirty cop think twice about shooting an unarmed man in the back. Equipping London’s streets with CCTV… well, doesn’t really impact crime but you see the point?

Basically it's a Heisenberg uncertainty principle redux: we'll never discover Walt's true self if he's watched too closely.

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