Camera Madness

So it looks like camera phones are being banned from concerts, which is just one more sign of the rising paranoia against MMS-enabled phones and digicams in America.

Europeans look on, bewildered. Despite a few scattered echoes of this sort of thing in Europe, so far the plain and simple stupidity of such bans has been the main talking point. I attribute this partially to us having a more mature market (some would even say a more mature society where people have more common sense), and partially to the plain and simple fact that camera phones are generally crap in terms of image quality.

After all, no one in their right minds can consider a camera phone to be a copyright-infringing digital device at this point. And it makes zero business sense to ban slightly under half the teenage population (the estimated number of those now carrying basic camera phones) from attending a concert.

And I don't think it will change with the advent of 3G and the inclusion of higher-resolution CCDs in phones. During the recent Rock in Rio festival in Lisbon, not only did carriers see their traffic climb steeply, they also helped promote the event by doing MMS contests. My colleagues in the audience called us up occasionally (using videocall) and showed us (tiny and grainy) panoramas of the stage. If you look at concert recordings (which are being re-broadcast as I type this) you'll see plenty of flashes in the audience. And, on close ups, people texting away.

But what really drives home the point is seeing an entire audience holding up their phones as beacons - instead of lighters.

The same thing happened during the Euro 2004, with folk videocalling and MMSing each other during concurrent matches and swapping views of the games. Yes, it was grainy and the only hint of the ball was a white pixel bouncing around. The phones can't compete with TV coverage, obviously, but the main point is that no one in their right mind would stop people from entering the stadium with a camera phone. It's simply part of the overall experience these days (not to mention that any club forbidding camera phones in its stadium would be maligned by its adepts all over the press).

(Oh, and the BBC is running this interesting story regarding WAP use during June, too - see the match calendar and make up your own mind about it.)

Over here, camera phones are becoming so entrenched that things like the camera phone ban in offices will become impossible to enforce in the short term (and I rate that right up with the alleged security risks placed by MP3 players - if people want to steal information, there are far simpler ways to do it, like e-mailing it, burning a DVD or printing it and carrying it out).

And even the overly paranoid I talk to regularly in government and industry over here (wearing either my tech pundit or my computer security hats) say people are adjusting fast - there is a new camera phone etiquette doing the rounds, and it is not about not bringing them in - the emphasis is on responsible use.

As one of them told me: "We're up to an 89.9% mobile phone penetration rate in Portugal - can you really stop people from carrying a camera phone when they often have no other means of communication - not even a landline phone?"

All in all, I think Europe is (again, like in so many other things) taking a better approach than America in this regard. Of course the jury is still out on whether we trust our citizens to be more responsible, have higher tariffs for MMS or just have less hype-prone politicians and lobbyists.

But any which way, we still look at America's paranoia with mild interest and some fear mixed in to our overall amusement, wondering just what they will try to ban next.

Maybe Europeans carrying camera phones?

(And people still ask why I never considered working in the US.)