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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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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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