Periscope, the new live broadcast app from Twitter rapidly launched in response to the booming Meerkat, allows you to record anything on your phone and publish it in real-time for anyone to watch. Anything to anyone.
I decided to give it a go. The first person I watched played the piano. It was beautiful. From Hamburg in Germany his fingers raced across the keys in beautiful strokes and there was magic to his way of playing. I was surprised. This was actually quite good. I sat watching for twenty minutes and then wondered what is it that makes live broadcast different than just watching it recorded? Why do you feel more of a connection than watching it on YouTube?
The second stream was from a Marathon runner in Atlanta, USA. He was recording his race and describing what was going on. As you watch on Periscope you can send hearts, a symbol of that you like what you see, by tapping the screen. Hundreds of hearts poured in urging him on.
You can also write to the person filming and say whatever you want. On random videos the comments are mostly, "Hello from Sydney!", "How's the weather?", "Haha!" etc., along with some expletive swearing and trolling. The third Periscope I watched was from behind the scenes in the CNN studio. A man by the name of Cody was giving a tour, talking to people in the newsroom and having his make-up done. More genuine questions were asked such as "How do you decide what makes it into the news?" prompting an honest answer from Cody.
Three decent videos that didn't make me feel like I had completely wasted my Sunday morning. Then I came across the noise. Videos of people doing nothing. Well, not nothing, just living. Eating dinner. Watching TV. Taking a bus journey. Walking. Talking. Lying half-naked hung-over.
Periscope is not a new idea but the infrastructure exists now to enable it. 4G. Free WiFi. Fast phones. The world and our lives are Periscopable and I give it a month or so, maybe less, before someone vows to be a Life Periscoper, broadcasting every moment. And what does this mean? What are the implications of a society of broadcasters? How do we change when the normally private goes public?
Dave Eggers, author of The Circle predicted Periscope with uncanny precision. He describes a camera called SeeChange that everyone wears at all time, broadcasting everything. The cameras are also placed around the world - super cheap and disposable - so you can login to any location and watch anything. Californian waves. Snow on the Alps. Traffic in Manhattan.
So far, sounds good. Eggers then writes of the political ramifications. A politician starts to Periscope [SeeChange] themselves at work in a country that's infamous for its corruption. Venezuela, Brazil and Malaysia are all recent examples in the media we could imagine this to happen. The voters love it. Finally Government is 'transparent'. Every conversation and meeting is broadcast live. The politician is held accountable to every word and one by one more join in. They go transparent.
Eventually a tipping point is reached. If you're not Periscoping you're not transparent. Therefore you must be hiding something. Might this happen in our society? Do we want to see the meetings our Government representatives sit in on? Do we want to be a part of the decision making that takes place? Should the Government go transparent? Think about drone strikes. Lobbying. Police patrols.
Then there's the creepy side to Periscope. Although I did not witness anything of the sort, how long before someone dies on Periscope? What are the boundaries of nudity, sex and indecency? How do you stop someone filming you?
When we're filmed for public viewing our behaviour changes. Most of us become rigid and polite as if we're having dinner with the in-laws. Some go wild and make a good joke of it. Nevertheless, our behaviour changes. As The Savage in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World says, "I like being myself. Myself and nasty." Is this possible in a world of Persicopers? Or will you be ostracised from society, shunned and ignored?
Periscope will grow huge and along with it the understanding that everything we do is shared. Will this change our behaviour? Yes. But in the Earth-shattering all our freedom is gone kind of way? I doubt it. With every new Periscope user comes the realisation that maybe we're not so different. Maybe we're pretty similar. Maybe we're all just human.
Follow Tom Church on Periscope by searching, yup, you guessed it, 'Tom Church'. You can also read more from Tom on his creative design blog Screams.