Someone is watching

28 Jun 2006

A funny thing happened on a Hong Kong bus last month. The story goes that a young man, annoyed with an older man in front talking too loudly on his mobile phone, tapped him on the shoulder asking him to quiet down.

The older man on the phone, obviously agitated, turned around and confronted the young man. The heated exchange of words rapidly degenerated into a one-sided shouting match, with the older man bringing up many issues that seem to hit a nerve with Hong Kong society.

'I have pressure. You have pressure,' the older man, dubbed 'Bus Uncle', said. His reaction to a simple pat on the should to quiet down and the subsequent six minutes of continuous shouting by bus uncle, which was captured on video, ended up the hot topic for at least a week in the Hong Kong media. Everyone, from talk show hosts and tabloid magazines, gave the topic coverage.

Obviously, the comedy, or irony depending on how you look at it, of the situation helped propelled the clip's popularity. Loud people on the phone are a well recognized annoyance to all of us (in fact, Japan bans cellphone use on trains primarily to prevent disturbances from talkers). The young man's willingness to do something about bus uncle makes him an instant hero to all who have had to put up with loud people on the phone, not only on buses, but in restaurants, museums, concerts and so on.

So how did an incident on a bus traveling to the outskirts of Hong Kong end up as the center of all the media attention in Hong Kong‾ The whole sequence was recorded by another passenger, joeyip3268, using a Sony Ericsson W800 handset and uploaded to the Internet on the site YouTube.

According to unofficial estimates, the video has been seen by some two million viewers, making it one of the hottest video clips of any kind in the city despite its grainy image quality and jittery frame rate.

What this shows is that the impact of mobile phones on our society goes far beyond just the ability to get in contact with each other anywhere, anytime. With the introduction of cameras, gyms already ban mobile phones to protect people against unscrupulous snappers. Now, with the introduction of video recording, it seems anything out of the ordinary risks being recording and broadcast to everyone on the Internet.

Big Brother

So it seems that all those fancy features and capabilities that vendors have spent billions of dollars developing and integrating into their latest handsets, are being used after all. More importantly, now many more people will know the extent of the capabilities of their latest handsets.

At least some two million viewers of the clip will now know that they can get a mobile phone that can take video, if they don't have one already, and that if they somehow find themselves in the right place, at the right time and catch the right footage, then they stand a chance to become the next joeyip3268, who has been interviewed on TV and sold part of the footage to a tabloid magazine.

Already, new footage has been uploaded onto the same site by another user, which allegedly captures an old man on the subway sneakily taking photos of a high school girl.

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