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Virtual voyeurism

  • 10 July 2006

One of the earliest internet fads involved users setting up webcams, often in the privacy of their homes. Some were connected permanently, others operated sporadically. These webcams provided windows into the interior world of an individual. Some were enlightening, others salacious. All brought an element of personalisation to the internet, and along with this, a hitherto unknown 'connectedness' to the world. An early metaphor for the internet that was made famous by Australian academic McKenzie Wark was of the internet as a 'virtual geography.' The Internet allows us to flit from global event to global event, and allows us to feel a sense of 'syncronicity' with the events of the wider world. The vast number of virtual experiences on the Internet creates an artificial reality. A virtual geography of media vectors means we can always be there -wherever 'there' is. Walking through Federation Square on the way to the AFL Grand Final last year, I was bemused by the many football fans who used their their mobile phones while gesticulating wildly on the big screen. ‘Look at moi!’ A new take on the idea of a video phone, Fedcam (www.fedsq.com/index.cfm?pageID=55) encourages visitors to wave to friends overseas or at home. From Melbourne we can virtually travel south to Mawson Station in the Antarctic (www.aad.gov.au/asset/webcams/mawson/default.asp). Every ten minutes a picture is taken and sent by a permanent satellite link to the Australian Antarctic Division's Headquarters located in Tasmania. The web photo is updated automatically. The site provides still photos taken over the last couple of days, as well as photos of the coldest, mildest and windiest days. It becomes quickly obvious why it is so dangerous to be caught in the snow during a windstorm: on the photo of the windiest day, nothing at all can be distinguished! From the south to the north. At virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=27690, you will find a range of views of the picturesque Helsinki South Harbour and its surroundings. The camera is able to pick up details of this historically fascinating and very popular precinct. As the camera settings are changed, a range of significant Helsinki locations become visible including open-air markets, the City Hall and the Presidential Palace, the green-domed Lutheran Cathedral, the traditional Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral replete with onion-like cupolas, and the modern Alvar Aalto-designed marble-clad Stora-Enso office building. Another more remote webcam in Finland (www.saariselka.fi/eng/webcamera.html) is pointed towards Saariselkä chapel in the heart of Lappland.