Calhoun's Calhoun's for April 22, 2013
Sherlock Holmes would have been delighted. When in need of information fast, he would send word to his Baker Street irregulars, a gaggle of street urchins who, for a pittance, would quickly fan out and scour the hidden warrens of London and swiftly bring back bits of intel which Holmes would piece together into a case-solving clue.
In the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, police called for their irregulars: seventy bazillion bits of film/fotos from surveillance cameras, cell phones and video cameras in the hands of the public, all of which contained bits of intel shot before, during and after the event, all taken from every direction. Specially trained law enforcement started the Herculean task of sifting images until two likely suspects came up. Those photographs were then broadcast over social media, television and print and suddenly the game was afoot and everyone in the entire wired world became Sherlock Holmes in hot pursuit.
It was a loopy sci-fi moment: "1984" in reverse, but this time WE were Big Brother. And we were pissed off and empowered and in hunting mode. It must have been a spooky moment for the two Chechen brothers, with their gentle Byzantine ikon eyes: One moment anonymous and the next --- WTF??!! Nowhere to run, except to ground -- or hide in a boat -- and wait for the wrath that was about to descend.
Several years ago, when street surveillance cameras first appeared, various civil libertarians raised red flags. Wicked Government was taking away our Freedom! Big Brother was coming! But before the arguments could be formulated, technology and culture bypassed the discussion itself. Big Brother had already arrived and he was everywhere . But this time he was the Citizens themselves. And their iPhones.
And I suspect, in their arrogance and ignorance, the Tsamaev brothers never gave a moment's thought about the one unique thing about our contemporary society: There IS no privacy anywhere anymore. Too many hi-tech phones in the hands of a cohort that documents its existence every single moment of the day with snapshots -- pictures of what they're eating, shots of a sidewalk, a street, a car passing by -- cameras, cameras everywhere, all clicking away and posted to social media, and all filled with little bits of intel just waiting for Sherlock's call. If you live in America, you've probably already been "tagged" on Facebook, and FB images live forever, and facial recognition software is getting better and better each year. Truly, we are all in the databanks now.
And suddenly, the Second Amendment starts looking a bit anachronistic. Who needs armed vigilantes to protect a free peoples against predation by criminals and terrorists; all you need are cell phones, social media, a well trained police force, and a vigilant, cooperative citizenry that refuses to cower and be rendered helpless by fear. Screw Big Brother, said Boston. WE are Big Brother, we're our brother's keeper and nobody is going to get away with killing any of our own or screwing with our town.
Which is what happened in Beantown and surprised no one who knows that tough, scrappy, wonderful place.
Sherlock would be pleased.