Whilst commentators have been likening popular social networks to a modern version of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon for some time, we wonder if it’s really solving the UK’s most nagging social problems?
Last week the New York Times ran a piece which outlined that Spring break has gotten tamer as the rest of the world observes the party via the web. It seems the spring party, traditionally a time when US students go wild in some remote beach town has been a milder affair of late. Students are savvy enough to realise that in a years time their prospective employers may be trawling the internet for pictures of their Spring break antics which will likely affect their chances of employment, and have adjusted their partying accordingly.
Inevitably some argued this as further evidence that Facebook (amongst other social networks) is now acting as a modern equivalent of the Panopticon. The Panopticon was a theoretical prison & correctional facility theorised by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The crux of the idea was that a large prison workforce would be housed in a circular torus-shaped facility whose hub contained the watching warden and guards. The prisoners would never know if they were being observed or not, and be forced into obeying the laws & rules laid down for fear of being caught out at any time.
Commentators have been comparing the UK’s fondness for surveillance cameras and Facebook’s activity feed as examples of the Panopticon for some time now.
If this is the case, and the unobservable, ever watching eye of Facebook is modifying anti-social youth behaviour shouldn’t application developers capitalise on this new seam of applications to correct some of Britain’s other top hates? So here are a few free app ideas for any developers keen to address the other minor grievances of the UK.
Irritated by the driver following too closely behind? Get your passenger to snap the view in your rearview mirror. The App calculates how closely the car behind was following based on the percentage of the image the number plate takes up. The photo is tagged with your location using the phone’s GPS or via nearby Facebook places, together with the guilty number plate and tailgate distance. Repeat offenders get logged by numberplate on a leaderboard together with their last known sightings. Over time a realtime map overlay could be generated showing key roads with high incidence of tailgaiting offering the perturbed motorist the routes to avoid.
An app using a smart phone’s recording facilities. Set it running as you enter the store, it monitors the initial silence as you wait for the shop assistant to come to your aid together with pitch and volume to gauge how disinterested the assistant is in your query. The soundbites could then be uploaded and optionally submitted to the store’s management for review and their right to reply.
An optional measurable grid overlay to plug into popular photo applications. The next time you catch someone eating with their mouth open in a restaurant you snap their photo and use the overlay to measure the excess of open mouth for the portion they’re attempting to eat. Link the results to the restaurant's page on Facebook and Foursquare to give any new diners the heads’ up as to if there’s a higher than usual incidence of open-mouthed eaters.
Anyone catching a dog owner leaving the pavement fouled can snap a photo of the offending individual and mess and upload to facebook together with a geotag of the position. Encorage others to snap and log other offending dog dirt piles and link to likely offenders. Build up a useful map of incidents for joggers, walkers and pram users together with highlighted venn diagrams of known worst offenders catchment areas.
In case it needs stating I’ve not explored any of the technical or legal ramifications of these ideas. Any app developers wanting to use these ideas do so at their own risk.