Technology never ceases to amaze me. In recent weeks, it's been striking to see that, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a phone isn't a phone isn't a phone.
Images captured on video cell phones — and often shared on sites like YouTube — enable people around the world to increasingly share the same images, at the same time. It's changing everything from crime to even the way we report stories.
Of course, we learned how Saddam Hussein was executed after images of his hanging were caught on a security guard's cell phone. Cameras phones are now in places where cameras themselves never used to be. Citizen journalism is truly in action.
And just last week, when an 18-year old Salt Lake City teen shot dead five people, and himself, in a popular mall, the violence was caught on a cell phone. Even police not on the scene were able to piece together the horrific chain of events.
Cell phone images are also stopping crime. Last month, police in California released a pair of cell phone video clips they say depicted a caretaker slapping two mentally retarded men. The caretaker was then arrested, thanks to the images.
Just last week, teenagers on Long Island were caught when their prank was capture on cell phones. The teens' "fence plowing" videos — in which the "fence plower" barrels head-first through someone's fence — were posted on the Internet for the police to see.
Last year, a New York City woman helped police catch a serial subway flasher with her camera phone. She captured the flasher in action right on her phone. Actions like that have led to the proliferation of Web sites like HollabackNYC, which asks people to "catch that jerk with your video phone or do journalistic style feature on Street Harassment and we'll post it!"
Now everyone has the power that once belonged to just a small group of people. As long as that power isn't abused, it's good for democracy and bad for the perpetrators. Be careful, someone in your vicinity may be watching and you could be caught by a high-tech candid camera.