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Who wants to be a paparazzo?

Maybe induced celebrity worship is just a trojan horse for the all-around surveillance society. Maybe always-on, always-reachable communications technology has dulled our respect for privacy, even our own. Privacy has all but been invalidated by our society's all-consuming fascination with personal attention. Where once we cherished being left alone, now we thrill to be noticed by strangers, even if its because we are doing something criminal, stupid, embarrassing, or trivial. Social recognition is important, but the crisis our culture faces stems from the way that currency has been devalued into attention.

That was the impression from this PR email I received yesterday that invited me to "do a 'write-up' on it." (Your wish is my command -- and no, I don't know why write-up is in quotes either. Maybe it perfectly suits this ironic account I'm in the midst of providing.) Here's the bulk of the email:

Site Aims to Make Everyone a Paparazzi

Los Angeles, CA. October 2006 – Eyesawit.com - deemed "One man's quest to find out what's happening in his own backyard"

From Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes caught sneaking a peek at audience reactions to Tom's MI:3 premier to everyone's first Myspace friend the former owner Tom Anderson partying in Las Vegas to Ben Affleck stopping for a burger in Pasadena, EyeSawIt.com has turned regular people into Paparazzi. And celebrity sightings are not only what EyeSawIt's users are reporting: crimes, auto accidents, stray animals and more.

The brainchild of entrepreneur, J. Kenneth Ezra, Eyesawit.com was born when Ezra realized that an alleged attempted Los Angeles kidnapping, which occurred last year, was receiving minimal news coverage. The incident prompted Ezra to create a social blogging community that would allow residents to report about what takes place in their neighborhoods.

With 17 categories ranging from serious incidents such as, auto accidents and domestic violence, to entertaining and unusual spectacles such as, celebrity and UFO sightings, Eyesawit.com exposes its visitors to a new reality of their environment. The portal additionally provides a comment section where visitors can confirm or deny postings.

"The difference with our site, at its core its user-generated content creates community interaction rather than sightings written by our staff. I was amazed at the amount of information people on the street were able to provide me compared to the Internet" said Ezra. "As we know already, the community knows more than any individual. I set out to harvest that information. It's true we as a communal intelligence can paint a much clearer picture of actual on-the-streets sightings. Everyone is a Paparazzi in their own neighborhood."

...

Whether privacy is an issue or not, owner Ezra explains, “Information should be shared and free-flowing as long as the community is served and no one gets hurt”.

When asked about how the site is generating money or his financial goals with the website? Ezra answers: "Right now I'm concentrating on listening to my website visitors and achieving the goal of informing you about what's happening in your own backyard."

It's no longer enough to walk around with your eyes open to know "what's happening in your backyard." Now you need a distributed network of eyes creating a virtual panopticon to let you know what's "really" going on. Aided by technological surveillance and data-aggregation tools, the real now transcends what we can apprehend through the senses and not so because a stratum of Platonic ideals supersedes it. I don't think this website aspires to bring us out of Plato's cave; if anything it hopes to roll a rock in front of it and seal us forever in the echo chamber of faulty impressions, slanderous reports and competing observations. Nothing opens a person up to taking in the spendors of the world like the paranoia of being constantly observed (and the certainty of knowing how much attention he'll get for tattling on others). Paranoia is, as they say, a heightened form of awareness, after all. The Stasi, I'm sure, made East Germany a pretty exciting place to live, with a heightened sense of neighborliness and connection. I'm sure everybody felt comfortable with the level of "community interaction" going on there.

Honestly, there are so many things that are deplorable about this web site, that I hardly know where to start. (1) Just because you witness something, that doesn't make you important. It makes you a spectator, a rubbernecker, a clogging, traffic-jam-causing impediment on the highway of life. (2) The amateur reporter is almost certain to get things wrong and misreport whatever it is he thought he saw, while importing ideological bias and received ideas about what is supposed to be "important" -- just look how bad real reporters are at this (John Kerry tells a stupid joke and everybody reports it; the president proclaims Rumsfeld will never be fired, it gets barely reported, the Republicans robocall voters in the middle of the night and pretend to be Democrats and it's reported pretty much not at all). (3) No one aspires to be a paparazzo. When one is a snooping busybody, it's because of a personality flaw, not a long-held ambition. This site hopes to exploit the flaw and transform our impression of it into an achievement -- "look at me! I'm making news!" (4) Leveraging the already contentious problem of neighborly spying and small-town gossip mongering over a global network seems like a really bad (if inevitable) idea. The idea that "no one gets hurt" by free-flowing unverified information is beyond naive. And there's nothing free about this flow of information; it's designed to be managed so as to direct a free flow of profits into Mr. Ezra's coffers. (5) Tell your friends what you saw -- most likely, no one else really cares, and if they do, then the news you bear has made you an insignificant messenger who will not be remembered. People like gossip, but they generally don't like gossipers. And no one but the state likes anonymous snitches. (6) If you care that Ben Affleck bought a burger in Pasadena, you really need to assess your priorities in life.


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