Life Casting: the Self-Induced Blow to Privacy


Published: September 27, 2007

Could you imagine being under 24 hour video surveillance? What would life be like for us if anyone in the world could tap into a live video stream of our lives? In a society in which we fight passionately for the right to privacy (even when national security is at risk) such a notion seems inconceivable. Privacy is an American birthright. Being anonymous is our prerogative. Such are the cries we utter whenever anyone tries to infringe upon our solitude. It seems silly, then, that in this society there also exists such a thing as “life casting,” a process that screams “Watch me!”

Earlier this year, Justin Kan, coined the term, “life casting,” when he determinedly attached a webcam to his hat and streamed nonstop live video and audio. He founded, a website that allows for live video streaming online. Since the summer, has added 60 different channels, making it possible for people to obtain a beta code to allow them to broadcast live from their own webcams.

I can’t imagine why anyone would set up a webcam so that others could see what they are doing all the time. I’m uncomfortable whenever anyone reads over my shoulder, especially with the notion that God (and Santa Claus) are always watching me. However, there are many people across the nation who seem to be extremely comfortable with being followed by strangers. They have attached webcams to themselves as they drive or walk down the street. Some webcams point at their owners’ faces while they’re doing work on the computer, watching TV or eating. If you tune into a webcam early enough in the morning, you can watch someone sleep.

“Life casters” are exhibitionists. They want desperately to be seen. Perhaps these people experience an inherent feeling of loneliness that is quelled by the presence of a webcam. Maybe “life casting” is a newfound reassurance that we do indeed exist. Maybe the fact that others can see us assures us that we are real.

If these things are true, then society is in big trouble. Despite the fact that it is a self-induced invasion of our own privacy, accepting a practice such as “life casting” would mean that privacy isn’t an issue for us anymore. We have virtually invited the peeping Tom into our homes. Being able to watch someone sleep is no longer a novelty reserved for intimate relationships. Just as unsettling is the fact that the reliance on a webcam for human interaction pretty much signals the end to any actual human contact. I don’t think there’s any greater proof of our existence than actually being able to see someone’s reaction to something that you say or do without any technological medium.

The exhibitionists are not the only ones to blame. “Life casting” is slowly gaining popularity, not only because there is an ample number of exhibitionists willing to put themselves on display but also because there are a great number of voyeurs willing to watch them.

Everyone is something of a voyeur—that fact is indisputable. We like watching other people because we’re curious about how other people run their lives. What I’ve recently learned, however, is that maybe the most appealing thing about strangers is their mystery.

Recently, I watched the naked cowboy’s “life cast.” I watched him run his morning errands and then sat with him in New York City traffic for about 45 minutes—him singing along to his own naked cowboy songs. Witnessing this, I sat here contemplating the end of private lives and anonymity. And just as he was droning on to someone on the phone about podcasts and exclusive interviews as he was stopped at a red light, I realized that the naked cowboy was much more interesting when all I saw of him were his briefs in Times Square.

The naked cowboy unknowingly taught me that life is interesting because it’s full of people we don’t know anything about. The idea that the stranger snuggled up next to me on the subway last night has a life totally unknown to me is unsettling, yes, but overwhelmingly fascinating, too. “Life casting” would ruin this kind of mystery. Anonymity is what makes life exciting. So why give up some of life’s charm for a kind of technological progress that isn’t really necessary?