It's my birthday next month — number forty. Family tradition dictates that decades are celebrated with more vigour than other, lesser anniversaries — and due to timetabling issues I take delivery of the parental gift a little early, a stonking new Nikon D70 digital SLR many times more expensive than I could ever contemplate. Ooh-er. And this evening, the sun is out late enough for me to skip over to Hampstead Heath and discover just how much I don't know about photography.
The technology is wonderful, of course, and I can see why every D70 owner I've talked to enthuses like a spittle-flecked preacher about all the magical things it can do. But like all portable symbols of excess consumption, there's a certain edge to whapping out it in public. When you're burdened down with iPod, smartphone, digital camera and laptop, you've got enough easily-saleable goodies on board to clothe a family in Burberry for a year. I'm all for bridging the digital divide, but not if it means being forcibly divided from my digitals. So a certain circumspection is called for: a wary eye out at all times, what airline pilots call situational awareness.
The other change that a new toy brings is hyper-awareness of other people with the same thing. Hampstead Heath is fruitful for those looking for digital camera owners: the sun's brought out the dog walkers, the joggers and the snappers in equal numbers. I wonder how many of these people are on Flickr, the far-too-cool photo sharing community, and whether we'll end up in each others' pictures (it has happened).
What we need is something like a memory card with built-in wireless and a peer-to-peer server. The good thing about cameras is that you automatically own the rights to the content inside them, so there are no DRM issues. Nikon has tried to change this by encrypting some of the image metadata in its latest cameras, but nobody knows why. It took a day to crack and people are openly mocking the company for such silliness, so don't expect the experiment to stick.
If you choose to share, you can — and with no intellectual property control issues, peer to peer is an entirely blameless technology. Flickr works by letting people share, and since it includes Creative Commons option it makes the terms of that sharing absolutely plain — and we have the ability to replicate that in an ad-hoc way anywhere two or three shutterbugs are gathered together. As anyone taking pictures in the same area as you is likely to share interests, this could be a remarkably effective idea.
Mind you, this does go against the general wish to keep as low a profile as possible. What's the point in keeping your camera in its bag if it is broadcasting "Nick me!" signals across the wireless bands? It was so much easier in the days of box Brownies and bellows enlargers, you know.
Perhaps I'm getting old.