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The Rise of Peep Culture

Broadcasting the intimate details of one's life has become mainstream

3 min read
We derive more and more of our entertainment from watching ourselves and others go about our lives. We’re going to enter a point where we become quite addicted to being watched.
—writer Hal Niedzviecki, in the Ottawa Citizen, 31 January 2009

A few years ago, I was researching the term camgirl, used to refer to a girl or young woman who broadcasts live pictures of herself over the Web. I certainly strive to be a disinterested chronicler of new words, but sometimes I just have to shake my head. Why would someone turn her life into a digital peep show? I was tempted to dismiss this as a bizarre hobby for a few teenage exhibitionists caught up in a new technology. But then I read that there were thousands of camgirls out there. And yes, there were plenty of camboys, too. Clearly there were larger forces at work.

According to Susan Hopkins, the author of the book Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture, for some kids the constant surveillance of webcams affirms their identities—because they’re like, you know, sorta kinda on TV, and only celebrities and important people appear on TV. It’s the same impulse that provides a never-ending cast of unembarrassed reality show participants. It’s why TV crews never seem to have trouble finding a grief-stricken person to interview after a disaster. The camgirls themselves talk about ”artistic expression” and ”empowerment,” and surely that’s true for some. But for most of them the omnipresent eye of the webcam serves only to validate their existence: I cam, therefore I am.

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How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

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