Sandy Springs: Turning ourselves into snitches

When we catch someone staring a bit too long in our direction, we heckle: “Why don’t you take a picture? It lasts longer.” It would be wise to rethink that prescription.

The city of Sandy Springs launched a smartphone application this week by which anyone can snap a photo of things like potholes, abandoned cars, graffiti and other such malfeasance, and submit the digital evidence to the city. The app uses the phone’s global positioning system to automatically provide the problem’s location.

Two thoughts come to mind. Overall, it’s probably a good idea when it comes to finding those nagging little perplexities around town. And two, it’s going to happen anyway, so why not bring some conformation to it. Hardly a ringing fiat, I know, but I feel the same way about root canal. I don’t have to love it to appreciate its long-term benefit.

My, but how far technology has taken us. The first mobile phone I had allowed me to make and receive calls, period. And though it was the size and heft of a brick, I thought it the cat’s PJs. Now even the most unornamented wireless device is much smaller but will connect to the Internet, channel text messages anywhere on the planet, not to mention record pictures/video. With a wee bit of iteration anyone can be a roving correspondent for CNN, The Weather Channel or TMZ.

As such, newly minted professional athletes are counseled their off-the-field behavior is under digital scrutiny. That frolic with a stripper that would have been deniable 10 years ago can now be posted on Facebook and Twitter before you can say “invasion of privacy.” Who needs the paparazzi to get that shot of the celebrity ingénue de jour buying hemorrhoid relief supplies at the apothecary when anyone in the store can do it?

A high school teacher taught me that in theory a person has the right to wield a knife in public, but their rights ended, and mine began, at the tip of that knife. I’m not sure how to apply that when the blade is digital. Does simply being in public make us public figures?

The ’Net is lousy, literally, with sites that make money off content from camera phones. One exists to make fun of the way some people dress when they shop at discount stores. Others are photos recorded during wanton boudoir monkeyshines. And YouTube has an ample supply of the besotted behaving badly.

And while the city has a much higher purpose for its new application, let us offer an entreaty for the staffers that will have to sift through the content some smartphone vigilantes will feel they need to send in — much in the same vein as those who call 911 to report nonworking cable or the roommate who took the last beer. Robin Williams is right: “It’s not Big Brother anymore, it’s little snitch.”

We have seen the future, and if you blinked, fear not. It was recorded at 3.0 MP with VGA video at 30 fps.

Jim Osterman lives in Sandy Springs. Reach him at