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We're All Captured Now

Originally, the recorded medium was for the elite, the priests, poets and politicians, creating a commonly shared recorded culture. Today, these popular culture products and events are distributed to us; we buy books and newspapers, attend movies. Some of us even make amateur attempts at recording our own private lives for posterity, or for fun.

Recording one's own life used to be private, a deliberate and contained event. You'd write a letter on special watermark paper. Or you posed for a snapshot, taking time to compose a face for the camera. Girls would hide in the bedroom to write a diary entry and then stash the book under a mattress. Being caught unawares by the camera in some societies caused hilarity, as we saw in the early 60s with the TV show "Candid Camera," and in other societies might cause death, as some cameramen learned among aboriginal tribes, or in a military dictatorship such as Rangoon.

At the beginning of this century, Hollywood movies became a popular and unifying medium worldwide, representing, at an imaginative distance, the glitz and glitter of the elite, seen through other people's lives. Through these celluloid dream machines we were drawn into new imagined spaces containing real people living lives we could play and rewind, unreachable and erotic images of idols like Madonna and George Clooney. The privacy of the darkened theater invited us, like Narcissus, to dive into the pool the movie director had created for us, and imagine ourselves part of the movie.

Those private lives become ever more public as the accessibility of a recorded culture approaches our own homes and offices. The trail of our recorded culture has led from book to stage to movie theatre to "America's funniest home videos". Now, we face the prospect of being ever online with our own digital home movies. We make it as we live it. See the freezeframes of our lives: Online, our names and financial profiles tie us to our checkbook and the credit cards and the home movie dictation phone tape machine. We record ourselves, and increasingly accept being recorded routinely and in public by other people and organizations, such as banks and Dunkin Donuts, the Police and the Post Office, as we go about the mundane business of our lives.

These frames of recorded life segments are interchangeable and unchangeable; the camera never lies (but maybe morphs a bit here and there). Make a new reality out of an old photograph, create an old man out of a baby, bring an insurance executive into life from a high school yearbook photo of a nerd, words and pictures, voice and data, zeroes and ones, faster and faster, smaller and smaller, on and on around the spool through wind and rewind to that vast cache reservoir of today, when everyone's a star, every reader an author, every client a server, every brown photo of an old prom date a piece of someone's NetScape wallpaper on a basement 486 somewhere in Texas, every check stub and email message recorded by some packet sniffing hound somewhere in Reston, Virginia, every head and shoulders shot of every passport in every airport in the world, online, every teller in every branch of every marginal savings and loan in every suburb of Arkansas, on tape. V Chip, S Chip, everyone is watching, the red light is on, and the fantasy is just begun.