See yourself as part of a conversation

October 27, 2009 06:12 pm | Updated 06:12 pm IST - Chennai

Public resistance to the growing use of surveillance is marginal due to the overriding motivation for a safe society and a growing desire for an easy life, says Karen Lawrence Öqvist in ‘Virtual Shadows: Your privacy in the information society’ (

She sees, on the contrary, a growing acceptance of the use of surveillance and tracking technologies, as in the case of linking of all national databases holding residents’ personal information into one or more repositories, considering the advantages such as improved government services and effective crime deterrence. “The message is clear: the ‘information age’ has unleashed a surveillance society that feeds on our imaginary fear fuelled by media hype.”

We are on the cusp of a new surveillance era, declares the author. She notes that today’s children will not think of questioning its logic because they have grown up accustomed to the notion of being tracked as the norm. “In fact the current generation could be the last generation to question the rational.”

From one perspective, one may fret about living in an information society “whereby you have joined the ranks of information junkies with an inability to ‘turn-off’: the ‘always on’ syndrome, a malady of an age that risks making your short time in this world meaningless, reduced the level of being a slave to SMS messages, the telephone, blogging, and email.”

A different, and perhaps a healthier, perspective is to see yourself as part of an information society that has give you a voice, cheers Öqvist. The voices of many individuals are giving power to the people in a way never experienced before, she adds.

“Online you are equal, you are not judged by what colour you are, which religion you follow, by how much you weigh or on your ability to communicate. This is equality in the beautiful sense of the word.”

Rather than feel like particles of dust floating around, or a grain of sand on the beach, you can see yourself as part of the same conversation, the conversation that has become an extension of our physical lives, the author describes.

“The conversation enables you to feel part of a community, a community that matters to you, where you have a voice and where you can be sure that someone out there is listening and interested in hearing what you have to say.”

In this new era, Öqvist finds the media has to be participatory, with lines between audience and creator blurring; for, participatory media are ‘conversations’ among the people formerly known as the audience, and the conversations are open-ended and democratic.

“Newspapers that are successful are those that are becoming part of the conversation and those are the newspapers that have websites with content that is free or mostly free allowing bloggers to link in the articles to their sites.”

On how bloggers have shaken up the mainstream media, there is an interesting quote of Glenn Reynolds comparing journalism to making beer. “Without formal training and using cheap equipment, almost anyone can do it. The quality may be variable, but the best home-brews are tastier than the stuff you see advertised during the Super Bowl.”

Öqvist mentions Yahoo! as a case of how users not only contribute content but also take part in its filtering and placement. For example, soon after the terrorist attacks on the London Underground in 2005, quite a few people took photos of the resulting chaos with their mobile phones and wirelessly uploaded the same to Flickr, and others tagged these photos by attaching labels such as ‘London Underground’ or ‘bombings’ so that the photos could be easily found; visitors rated the pictures.

Öqvist narrates how this in turn brought the best pictures to the attention of Yahoo!’s human editors, who displayed them alongside professional content across Yahoo!’s news sites, all in minutes. “These new collaborative processes have been named ‘folksonomies’ to distinguish them from the traditional top-down ‘taxonomies’ that human editors create.”

Recommended read to cure oneself of the online phobia.


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