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February 11, 2004

More Cell Phone Camera / Digital Convergence

More Cell Phone Cam / Digital Convergence
Digital convergence is the term for the way that digital devices are blurring boundaries and causing markets to converge. For instance, the cable company is now my internet provider, and pretty soon my cable is going to be my phone access, although the electric companies want to offer broadband, and the phone company wants to be my camera/film vendor, etc... The low cost of making cross-function digital devices and the ease of moving digital content (pictures, messages, whatever) anywhere instantly challenges the once-clear boundaries that big companies have based their strategies on.

I think that the cell phone camera is going to have unanticipated consequences. It started out with Palm Pilots offering a small camera option, and the Sony VAIO laptop included a built-in movie camera. The cellphone-as-camera trend started in Japan and came stateside as a way for cell phone providers to differentiate their offerings.

But the introduction of portable unobtrusive video cameras in the guise of cell phones has huge implications; now everybody is potentially a documentary film-maker. Image that the CEO calls the employees in for a we-gotta-change pitch, and imagine that the intern in the back row records it on her cellphone and uploads it to her blog, and it's online before the CEO eats lunch. It's beginning to happen.

The backlash is happening, too. In Chicago it's illegal to carry a cellphone in the gym because of people taking pictures. The US Air force has now prohibited cellphones in secure areas because in a room where people shouldn't have cameras, now cellphones are an issue too.

There was an ugly story in Pittsburgh last week that tipped over a cellphone. The Post-Gazette reports that a woman accused members of the St. John's basketball team of raping her; they claimed it was a money-for-sex deal gone awry-- it seemed a conflict of stories until one of the participants produced his cell-phone recording of the conflict. Of course, nobody in this scenario is a saint. Interestingly, there's also an investigation into whether the act of making the recording is a crime.

Way back twenty years ago, the capability to record and replay events was held by a few companies and a very few individuals, and they built a business out of it. Now everybody can be a photojournalist, and that challenges the status quo and gives us situations that our laws weren't intended to deal with. The decision to make cellphones more attractive by adding the camera may peversely result in laws restricting cell phone use.

What made the Rodney King incident compelling, and what broke through the authority's ability to shape the reports, was the videotape. If you were in a car stopped by the Brentwood PD in the wee hours and it started to go wrong, would you take out your cellphone and start the movie? Sure you would.

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