Thursday, 5 July 2007

All the world's a stage...

Less than ten years ago, the idea of someone's life being broadcast to the world 24 hours a day was still in the realm of speculative fiction.

In 1998, Truman Burbank was just a movie character, unaware that his whole world was contained inside a giant television studio surrounded by cameras, cranes, lighting rigs and production staff.

Today, Truman exists in the real world, in the guise of Justin Kan. Justin began broadcasting his life over the internet 108 days ago, by means of a webcam strapped to his head and a laptop stowed in a backpack.

Visitors to can watch what he's up to at any given moment, wherever he happens to be, unless that place doesn't have internet access. And yes, that includes all the things that only fetishists really want to watch someone else doing.

But while Justin is still a novelty, he isn't alone. His site isn't just intended to show his own 'lifecast'; it's also a hosting platform for other lifecasters. And with the cost and technological barriers to lifecasting tumbling rapidly, more people are donning webcams and backpacks and broadcasting their lives to the world*.

The implications are far-ranging. Media blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks it will become more likely that breaking news gets streamed live over the internet by lifecasters before mainstream media outfits can get their cameras, reporters and satellite dishes to the scene.

I can see a day when social networking platforms like Facebook are made up of thousands of people broadcasting their lives to each other in real-time. Searchable archives of video footage will render the notion of personal privacy obsolete. The blog anticipates this scenario when it says: 'Tips [archived clips] are a great tool for identifying the most compelling content of Justin's life so that it can be viewed and shared at a moment's glance.'

The mania for continuously updating one's Twitter or Facebook status with the most staggering banalities suggests that many people have a strong appetite for living life in public. It sounds like a horrible Orwellian dystopia to me, but in another ten years, broadcasting your entire life over the internet might be completely normal.

* For more on how it works, the Technology Evangelist blog explains iJustine's lifecasting equipment.

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