In the last issue of the Uncommon Denominator, a number of questions were posed about the advent of consumer-friendly surveillance technology, particularly such software as Google Earth and Microsoft's Virtual Earth: How will widely available satellite and photographic imagery change our understanding of public space? Can our new image technologies reinvigorate the ancient ideal of the agora, or will they pervert it? Who wins and who loses? To what degree will these technologies help to distribute power more broadly, and to what degree will they concentrate power in fewer hands?
The world - and it is a small world indeed - is at your fingertips. Let them do the satellite tracking.
The Age of Surveillance is in full swing, and it is we who are swinging. In contrast to the dystopic visions of yesterday's sci-fi writers, in which the people endure constant surveillance by governments or corporations, today's technologies of surveillance are increasingly decentralized and increasingly publicly available. Mark Crispin Miller's elegant revision of George Orwell -- "Big Brother is you, watching" -- seems strangely apt in a world where it's becoming easier and easier for us to see what our fellow human beings are doing.
The occasion for such ruminating is the advent of Google Earth, a software program that allows the user to view any spot on the globe, from various "altitudes," through the eyes of orbiting satellites. The "streaming" images that Google Earth provides are not quite real-time, but they are three-dimensional, and they include both terrain features and man-made environments. Want to see the Eiffel Tower? Zoom in. Tierra del Fuego or the Sahara? Zoom in.