Welcome to 1984, folks. It's been a bit delayed, but we're getting there.
That's what British journalist John Naughton concludes in an excellent Observer piece about the creeping and creepy power that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are amassing through the establishment of gigantic server farms all over world. Naughton argues that ten years into the future, all the data about ourselves -- "emails, documents, photographs, music, musics" -- will reside on these environmentally destructive data farms being built in poor rural district like Mount Holly, South Carolina.
Naughton is both right and wrong. 1984 is actually more than just round the corner. It's here now -- available for only $9.99 a month from AT&T. The amassing of data has finally been democratized. We can all be Big Brother now, everyone can be a data farmer. That's the beauty of citizen media.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal, in a piece entitled "Remote Patrol", gave us more than a sneak preview of 1984. Big Brother has even been priced competitively. For the highly affordable price of $9.99 a month, we can acquire AT&T's Remote Monitor -- a high tech spying service that "beams streaming video from home-cams to cellphones, and can send customized text-message movement in particular rooms." So, for under ten bucks a month, we can watch our wives, monitor our kids, spy on our cleaning ladies. And, given its democratic pricing, those cleaning ladies with a voyeuristic bent can even afford to spy on us.
For those of us with serious money (what Web 2.0 democratizers call "elites"), 1984 offers even more choice. Best Buy are now selling a $15,000 home-monitoring system called ConnectedLife.Home which apparently can remotely "turn on sprinklers or a washing machine." I assume, too, that ConnectedLife.Home, can be shoved into reverse, enabling thieves and pranksters to the turn off home appliances such as anti burglar systems or fire alarms.
This democratized 1984 represents a great business opportunity -- at least according to research firm Park Associates who promise us that the home monitoring market will mushroom from $91 million today to $400 in 2012. So, for all your innovative entrepreneurs, there are fortunes to be made from selling devices and services that empower us to spy on our neighbors. The Web 2.0 crowd will, no doubt, come up with businesses based on "user-generated-surveillance". Or how about services that spy on other species?
Don't laugh. Nothing is too absurd for the webcam crowd. The Wall Street Journal introduces us to Zach Glenwright, a video editor at a York, PA news station. Glenwright represents the banality of the digital voyeur:
Zach Glenwright spends most of his day editing video for a local news station. But every 30 minutes or so, he takes a break on his work computer to check on a camera of his own, monitoring the squirrels and birds in the backyard of his home in York, Pa. "It's kind of like watching a TV show," says the 25-year-old.
Even old George Orwell couldn't have imagined this. In his 1984, the cameras were pointed at people; in our 1984, they are pointed at the squirrels and birds too.