Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Camera phones

Every so often Ireland goes nuts. Some incident (usually pretty minor) occurs, the media gets hold of it and the whole country is shocked and talking about it. It's very hard to explain, but these minor incidents/major news items seem to become almost a national obsession.

Right now, we're in the middle of a shocking scandal. A pornographic picture of a school girl has been circulating via mobile camera phones. From what I can gather, everybody who's believed to be involved in this is about the same age as the girl in question. There seems to be no question of coercion, etc.

So, what's the big deal? If this were the Ireland I first came to, I'd understand, but, pornography is in every corner shop now. In fact, Irish television regularly transmits programs that are nothing short of soft porn. So the content of the picture, which it has to be said very few people have seen, cannot be the problem.

Is it because there are school children involved? Maybe, but again I doubt it. There are regular dicussions on the radio about how Irish school kids are "all at it" {a perspective I categorically reject}, so I don't think the fact that children (presumably about 15 or 16 years old) are involved in something sexual could be that shocking to people.

Therefore, it has to be the technology. And, this is, I believe, the real source of the hysteria. Camera phones are currently being discussed as if they were the source of all evil. They're banned from gymnasiums, pools, etc. But, only camera phones. Nobody seems to mind any other photographic devices.

Cheap cameras have been around a long time. Digital cameras and scanners, too, have been around a good while. So, I can't see why the camera phone is such a focus of attention.

Of course, people with political power are far from immune. Indeed, many of them seem keen to be the first ones over the cliff of sanity.

The Leader of the oppostion, Fine Gael's Enda Kenny is calling for a specialist Garda Corps to tackle the rise of child pornography and pedophilia. I can't argue with someone who wants to stop the spread of child pornography or pedophilia, but why not address the over-sexualization of children in modern Irish society, call for greater adherence to codes of decency by broadcasters or advocate a "Just say No" campaign for Irish schools?

Junior Minister Noel Ahern (Bertie Ahern's brother) believes phone retailers should not sell such phones to under-18s, unless their parents are with them. What about digital cameras and scanners? What about all digital video equipment?

Of course, I'm sure that these politicians cannot be that dim, so all they're doing is making sure that the public knows "they're doing something". Why can't they just give us a break? And why does the media pander to them?

The politicians and the media surely know this is not the first time that an Irish school girl has been caught on camera in a compromising pose. And, surely they also know that camera phones are not the only possible digital photographic devices out there. I sincerely doubt that some Irish school kids haven't long ago figured out how to use a digital camera or a scanner. Demonizing camera phones may make you feel powerful, but it really makes you look stupid.

Coincidentally, there was a good article about digital imaging and the loss of privacy in last weekend's Sunday Times. {sub required outside UK & Ireland}