Here's an idea for all high-tech inventors in Silicon Valley and there's a pile of money waiting for the person who can make it a reality: Get me a personal cloaking device.
No, I don't want to become invisible. That would be weird and extreme. What I'm talking about is a handy accessory that could be carried in a purse or pocket. It might resemble a tube of lipstick or cigarette lighter, and when activated it will effectively block my face from being "tagged" by passing strangers and their ubiquitous phone-cams when I'm out in the everyday world.
I understand that we live in an age of ever-increasing transparency. It's one of the major consequences of the 911 attacks. Video cameras are recording me at the bank, gas station, supermarket, and myriad other locations along Main Street USA. Ongoing surveillance has become a routine part of 21st-century life. I get it, but that doesn't mean I can't look for ways to push back against the trend.
I'm pretty sure a personal cloaking device would be an immediate hit with female subway passengers in England. Many of them have been surreptitiously photographed while snacking, and the photos are posted on a controversial Facebook page called "Women Who Eat On Tubes."
This kind of activity isn't illegal, and it's fair to ask why anyone should get angry about it now since paparazzi have been running around taking photos of people without asking permission for decades. They just used bulkier equipment in the old days. True enough, and my answer is that phone-cams have raised the degree of intrusiveness to a seriously unpleasant level.
I don't mind other people seeing me out in public. Observing and recognizing your fellow citizens is part of the process that maintains a sense of community. But if someone wants to snap a spontaneous photo of my face, shouldn't I be able to decline? A cloaking device is a form of passive resistance that would allow each user to avoid arguments or other confrontations with image-grabbers.
It would be great if the device did more than just blur out my features. Ideally it would come with numerous face-altering options so I could substitute some other image for myself, possibly a cultural icon like Mr. Clean or Hello Kitty. I like the idea of putting humor into the pushback.
The main problem with this idea is obvious. It has to be selective and not interfere with security cameras at schools, businesses, and all the other venues that are now keeping tabs on visitor traffic. Perhaps the cloaking device could display an I.D. number for each user and anyone who wanted to examine a genuine image could call a central registry at 1-800-C-MY-FACE.
I'm sure the experts can find a solution. They have an app for everything, right? And as I said at the beginning, whoever gets the device on the market first will be a zillionaire. I won't ask for a cut of the profits. Just knowing I helped preserve a small slice of personal privacy in this all-seeing, all-knowing era is the only payback I need.