When a meteor fragmented over western Siberia recently, we were instantly able to see dozens of clips of video evidence taken by dash-cams. Over and over, from every angle, you could immerse yourself into YouTube to find the impressive flash of light and the sonic boom. Windows blowing out, people clutching their ears – it was interesting to note how many of these homemade videos comprised the best records of the event.
The questions that followed were what you'd expect: What was that? Is it a natural thing? Is it war? Why do so many Russians have video cameras in their cars?
Because the Internet makes everyone an authority, many jumped in to solemnly declare that the videos were fake. I don't know if it was the grainy quality of some, the clumsily dropped cellphone cameras as the users' eardrums burst, or the shouts of fear, but to many, the only reasonable answer to how so many citizens captured the same thing at the same time must have obviously been fraud.
More educated voices prevailed, and it finally became clear that dash-cams are the norm in parts of the world where hit-and-run crime is a problem, and where, on occasion, police tactics are questionable. That constant recording is more for evidence than sport.
Most cellphones can be attached to a windshield or dash with a reasonably priced accessory. GoPros, the small cameras you can mount with a suction cup almost anywhere, are cheap. They have amazing quality, and you can simply pull the chip and upload it onto your computer. I have one, but once you realize everyone around you is taking the same amazing! awesome! footage!, you realize making the same smoking tires and one-person documentary over and over gets boring.
Not so for those looking to protect their rights. Every country is well represented in scary driving videos, but my favourites tend to be the Eastern Bloc countries, probably because I can't tell what they're saying. Material for YouTube is a happy bonus, apparently, for guarding your rights from fleeing felons or overzealous law officials. Canada, for the most part, is boring. We get people posting short videos exclaiming, "Can you believe that? He didn't even signal!" – while in the Ukraine some truck driver just drove up a wall to pass an ambulance.
I'm surprised that in the midst of the deluge of technology featured on every car that some manufacturer hasn't already built a camera into the front of its vehicles. We've had rear-view cameras for years, but those are only to help you park or not run over a tricycle. If every trip was visually recorded, think of the reduction in insurance fraud. Think of the decrease in wandering spouses. Think of the awesome YouTube videos waiting to happen. If dash-cams are a legal intrusion on our privacy, then built-in cameras must be, too, no?
Before the day was out, the meteor event sparked debate all over the world. Many of those bumpy, as well as high-quality, videos were forming the answers that scientists would need to answer some basic questions. Unlike the famous Zapruder film of Kennedy's assassination, this time scientists have every before-and-after sequence from every angle to work with.
For witnesses a world away, there was an eerie immediacy to the events. The impact of the posted visuals by drivers who now were amateur historians was clear. For citizens who were not just used to being lied to by their leaders, but who have come to expect it, they had their own record.