No cellphones in locker rooms a good thing

Jan. 14, 2004

It is good to see local gyms responding to concerns raised by the Ontario Recreation Facilities Association last week. New developments in cellphone technology allow them to be used as cameras, as well as hook up to the internet to post the pictures.

The association would like to see signage prohibiting the use of cellphones and personal digital assistants in all changerooms.

The response from the YMCA is swift, with signs already being posted in the change rooms in Cobourg, Brighton and all Ontario Early Years Centres and day care centres that it runs.

Port Hope’s parks, recreation and culture director Eugene Todd said it is not an issue yet, but he promises recommendations will be going to council.

Let’s begin by saying this is not a tirade against cellphones or the new cellphones with cameras. In fact, the technology is full of potential. Within journalism, the phone/camera would be an amazing tool. Just think, instead of having to be weighed down by carrying around two pieces of equipment, suddenly you are down to one. And think about its uses as a hidden camera for investigative journalism. Wow.

Then stretch the imagination a bit further for a second and see it as a tool for real estate brokers, able to take a picture of a home and have it online for potential buyers within seconds of putting your house on the market.

There is similar case to be made for used car dealers. And what about those who work as inspectors or repair crews in remote areas who see something and want the folks back at the office to see what they see.

No doubt those with more creative sense could come up with all kinds of applications.

But like all technology, there are those who use good ideas for bad things. It is like the old saying goes: a knife in the hands of a surgeon saves a life; but in the hands of a murderer it takes a life.

And so the gym owners in Northumberland County and elsewhere are left with yet another security issue. A walk around the YMCA will produce a list of security cameras watching us. It is for good reasons, too. And it is no different anywhere else.

And now this.

Unfortunately, the development of new technology is driven by many factors: business imperatives, consumer demand, sometimes just because an idea seems like a good one at the time.

And, there is a current mythology about technology right now that makes any advance judged as good and innately beneficial.

But we often don’t get a chance to really think carefully about the implications of the technology we develop.

Now before getting too far, this is not some new-Luddite manifesto against the technological revolution. The Luddite revolution, you will remember, was a movement born in 1811 when English craftspeople and artisans destroyed mechanical looms. The term was reborn during with the breakneck advances of technology in the past 20 years, particularly in computers.

But the cellphone example is a particularly good one since it is so innocuous. Who would ever believed it could be used for such devious purposes. And, do we really need to have cameras in phones. Obviously it is meant to lead to live, real-time videophones that will work over the Internet.

But the recreational association has identified a frightening aspect of this. We may have our personal privacy violated and never know it. At least with a camera, at one time, they were large enough that no one could take your picture without you knowing. And there was enough of a delay that it could not be made available to the public (or anyone else) immediately.

And who will decide if the technology stays or goes? It will most likely be a business decision, if one is made at all. If they don’t sell (as it seems is the case locally at the moment), then the company stops making them.

But from another perspective, as we have already mentioned, there are some practical uses for them. And it may be the forerunner to even more beneficial technology.

So, how do we, as a society, have anything to say. Probably not. Most likely, never.

Instead, as we do in so many cases, our community responds as best it can.

Thankfully, there are no reported incidents yet. Precautions are being taken already. We can hope for the best.

But, the burning question of technology is not gone. What we don’t need is a debate by extreme sides of the questions. What we do need is the ability to look deeply into the implication of the technology revolution and debate those, while somehow continuing to not hamper the imagination and creativity of those who innovate.

It’s a tall order. But nobody can wait. It is upon us, now.

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