Art merges with documentary, documentary becomes more like reality TV, and television becomes more like life. And life? Life, it seems, seeks to become more and more like all of the above. In Peep, life is lived on constant record because you never know when you're going to want to be able to rewind something, see it again, confront a family member, show it to the police, sell it to the highest bidder, or post it on your blog. To assist us with this goal, we are offered a powerful arsenal of Peep products and services. Most of these products "empower" us to watch each other. In doing so, they undermine trust even among friends and family, and create further demand for services that, in previous eras, would have been both morally and technologically unimaginable.
First, the increasingly ubiquitous nanny cam, which comes embedded in a stuffed animal or a clock radio. You can check in online any time during the day, or review the footage after work, the kids tucked into bed, a cold drink by your side, your slippered feet propped up on the coffee table. Then there are special cell phones for kids that let you monitor who your child is calling and how long they talk. Plus you have the option of preventing undesirables from calling or being called, by blocking their numbers. Thanks to your monitoring, it's likely that your child will safely turn sixteen and apply for a driver's license. Now it's time to buy a GPS device that tracks where the family car goes, how fast it goes, and if there's erratic or dangerous driving. You can set this device to notify you if the car leaves a certain area or pulls onto a "forbidden" highway. Of course you'll want to know what your kids are up to: did they drink, do drugs, see that boy they're forbidden to get within 100 miles of? Why not pick up a portable lie detector device like the Handy Truster, a $99 portable "voice-stress analyzer." "Is she cheating on you?" the online advertising asks. "Is he really working late? What are your kids really doing?" And it goes without saying that you'll want to drop $50 on PC Pandora, a program that takes a screen capture of the computer it's surreptitiously installed on every fifteen seconds. Particularly handy for getting your hands on your kids' hidden passwords. Finally, your safety and security are not assured until you spend $65 on Advanced Spy, "a hi-tech tool that will help you to monitor and record all activities on your computer. Perfect for monitoring spouses, children, co-workers, or anyone else!"
Not all Peep products and services involve quasi-spying. A growing number of them, as with Twitter and Facebook, are more about consensual peeping. Loopt, offered by Sprint Nextel and available on Apple's iPhone, lets those in the mostly college crowd who use it see the locations of friends who also have the service and have agreed to share their whereabouts. They appear as dots on a map on your cell phone, with labels identifying your buddies' names so you can tell who's at the bar, who's getting their hair done, and who's staying home with a good book. (What book? Check their list on GoodReads or Facebook, or see if they've added anything to their Amazon.com reading wish list.) With Loopt safely ensconced on iPhone, around a million people are now using the service. And there's reason to suspect that more will sign up: almost 55 percent of all mobile phones sold today in the United States come equipped with the technology necessary to enable tracking services.