By Robert Lalah
Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched? You probably are. And not only that, you're possibly being recorded as well.
It feels like everywhere you go these days there's a surveillance camera set up strategically to capture the moves of as many persons as possible. A sensible tactic to boost security, sure, but most of the time the cameras record little more than law-abiding people doing what law-abiding people do.
So what happens to all that footage of you shopping for plumbing supplies, or doing nasal excavation while waiting for a bus outside your favourite Chinese restaurant? It's the kind of question that keeps civil-liberty crusaders and conspiracy theorists up at night.
I guess if you have nothing to hide then this really isn't a big deal. It is fascinating, though, to think about how much of our lives are being recorded. With video cameras now a necessary accessory on mobile phones and tablets, even the most mundane activities are being preserved for posterity.
What good that three-minute video of your drunken uncle making goofy faces will do in five years isn't exactly clear, but we insist on saving it anyway. And sharing this kind of thing with anyone willing to see it has become the norm.
In 2011, an average of one hour of video was uploaded to YouTube every second of every day. More video is uploaded to YouTube in a month than the three major United States television networks created in 60 years, and over four billion videos are viewed each day on the site. The numbers keep growing too.
Our generation craves attention and requires constant ego-stroking. We get this largely from the number of views our YouTube videos get, or the number of Facebook 'friends' we accumulate. We are properly thrilled by the idea that we, for a few seconds at least, can hold the attention of hundreds if not thousands of persons we don't even know. And if it takes filming a good friend tumbling head-first down a staircase, or a half-naked dance in our bedrooms, well doggone it, that's what we're going to do.
Centuries from now when scientists seek to uncover the ways of man in the 21st century, these videos will prove invaluable. They'll learn we had a fascination with cats, thought howling dogs were the funniest thing ever, and that dancing babies were for us, more captivating than anything hanging on the walls of stuffy museums.
It must be this urge to play a part in documenting the story of our time that causes people to record so much. We pay good money, travel for hours, wait in line and get squashed in large crowds to get to the front row of stage shows to see our favourite singers. Yet, as soon as the star attraction walks out on stage, it's phones up and time to record. The entire performance is viewed on the four-inch screen of our cellphones, because to look away and at the actual person on stage singing could cause us to miss a vital shot. What would we do then?
When US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on stage to have their traditional first dance at the inaugural ball last week, it was hard to count the number of hands in the air clutching cellphones and iPads. Every rock, every twirl was recorded by the happy crowd. Never mind the fact that there would be no shortage of professional footage of the event to help recall the moment later on. No, this had to be captured on shoddy cell phone video, and uploaded to Youtube at the soonest possible hour.
Earlier that day, Obama had taken the public oath of office at the grand inauguration ceremony in Washington. As the proceedings wrapped up and he was walking away, television cameras captured him as he stopped for a moment to take a final look at the huge crowd that had come out to witness the event.
"I want to take one last look," he said. "I'll never see this again." After that he stood in silence for a few seconds just taking it all in.
It's that sort of experience I try not to miss out on. Being present to experience life is a lot better that watching it all on a screen. It can all go by really quickly and I for one think memorable moments survive richer in the mind than on video.
Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of 'Roving With Lalah'. Email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org