cameras | MIT Center for Civic Media

The magic, terror and potential of world webcams

I have recently become obsessed with Google's world webcam widget, which I have embedded on my iGoogle page. There's also a main page, hosted by a partnered for-profit company (Catfood Software) where you can check out some of the 800+ webcams set up around the world.

What's cool/horrifying about this is that it doesn't just show you a webcam; it lets you control the camera. You can zoom in and out, up and down. You can jump to a drop-down menu of locations (city center, famous church, boardwalk) set up by the camera owner. You can follow people as they walk down the street, and even take a still photo. This is equal parts terrifying and amazing. How can we reappropriate this surveillance for artistic, political or civic purposes? Wouldn't it be more powerful if people knew of the existence of said webcams and were willing and engaged participants in the virtual interaction between a stranger's computer screen and their beamed image?