My Take

Smart apps monitor our every move

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 2:31am

We are all being watched, all the time. Not necessarily by Big Brother, as George Orwell had imagined, but by strangers all around us with their smartphones with the video app.

Before you know it, you could end up, like schoolteacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze, on YouTube, and usually in an unflattering light. In the old days, before the advent of the internet and mobile apps, Lam's outburst at the police would not have led to a mass protest; no one would have known about it. Now, everyone has seen Lam online. There is a serious lesson here beyond that which provokes the usual pro- and anti-Beijing crowds: watch your behaviour in public, or even in private.

Think of the many recent anti-mainlander stories in the new media, such as the one sparked by a video clip of a young girl answering the call of nature on an MTR train. Many, if not most, of these stories began with a video.

This week, there is a tabloid report that actor Francis Ng Chun-yu, well-known for his temper, was about to blow his top again when he failed to catch a taxi in Central. But he spotted paparazzi nearby and quickly behaved himself and went back to join the taxi queue.

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, once recounted an amusing incident he had in an airport. He and a woman were fighting over the last copy of a news magazine. She turned towards him and said menacingly: "I know who you are." It was not an admiring remark from a fan. He quickly realised the whole encounter could be filmed and so promptly behaved like a real gentleman and let her have the magazine.

Philosophers and psychologists call it The Gaze, the sense that we are being watched and judged all the time. Feminists have appropriated the term and call it the masculine gaze, the control over how women behave even when no one is watching in a male-dominated society. But the idea clearly came from Christian Europe. It is, in a way, what conscience is all about: you have to be good even when no one is watching because God is watching.

Well, there may or may not be a God and gender equality has much improved, at least in the developed world. But now we have omnipresent mobile technology to watch over our every move.

So, just watch yourself!