When the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was first released, the 1998 audience may just have seen the movie as a fictional story. The idea of a man whose entire life has been filmed as a TV show sounds bizarre, and makes for a great movie plot. However, in the current era of digital witnessing, this plot is not as incredibly far-fetched as it originally may have seemed. Everyone nowadays seems to always want the world to know what they are up to: apps like Twitter and Instagram are used to update followers about a user’s whereabouts and current thoughts at all times in the day. As the lyrics of St. Vincent’s song “Digital Witness” say “what’s the point of even sleeping, if I can’t show you, if you can’t see me?” While The Truman Show is a fictional movie, it lends itself to this idea of digital witnessing. It sounds weird that Truman Burbank’s entire life was on TV, but according to St. Vincent, he may really be winning at the digital witness game, even if he doesn’t realize it: the fictional character actually does have people who can see him when he sleeps!
Today, we are almost a in a state of Truman Show 2.0. Instead of unknowingly being thrust into this situation like he is in the movie, though, we do it to ourselves. In the movie, Truman starts to wonder why the world seems to be revolving around him. We, on the other hand, tend to wonder why the world doesn’t revolve around each of us. One way we now have the ability to make the world revolve around ourselves, and to do constant, every second of our lives witnessing is with the new glasses developed by Google called Google Glass.
Google Glass has been kind of ridiculed since it’s announcement in 2013 due to how strange they look (there is really nothing subtle about them, at this point in their development). But while it is normal to make fun of how they look, we really have no grounds to make fun of what they do, because it is what we smartphone users try to do all the time: Google Glass has the ability to constantly record the world around us just as we see it, for some reason or another. With the glasses, there is no need to even hold up your phone to take a picture, which makes digital witnessing even easier and more frequent than it is with our phones. Sometimes this reason is to show other people later, sometimes it is for ourselves to replay at a future time, what have you. No matter the reason, we as a generation of smartphone users are obsessed with witnessing, and some people are willing to wear a camera on their face at all times.
In the Wired.com article “I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass,” Matt Honan describes his experience as a 24/7 digital witness. He starts by talking about how awkward it is and all the weird looks/confrontations he received while wearing them, but also says that the product itself was “uhhhhhhhhmazing.” Other eye-witness accounts (get it, eye witness? because they’re glasses?) share the same general amazement with the technology: the ability to take a picture just by saying “O.K. Glass, take a picture” is pretty freakin’ cool (and also brings back childhood memories of myself yelling “go go gadget” in order to activate machines that did not exist in me after watching Inspector Gadget too many times…). The New Yorker’s author Gary Shteyngart wrote a similar article about his own experience with the glass, and said that:
I hear that in San Francisco, where these devices are far more in evidence, the term “Glassholes” is already current, but in New York I am a conquering hero. I pass by fascinated faces looking intently into my own unremarkable punim, as I update Walt Whitman’s poem—“Are You the New Dork Drawn Toward Me?”
Google Glass allows us to digitally witness out lives as we have never been able to do before, even with the integration of smartphones into our lives. While the technology is still in its early stages, and has only just very recently been released to the public. there is a good chance that in a few years, Google Glass and similar products will be a regular thing for people to have and wear around. We who love digital witnessing as much as we do may mock the glasses at first, but who honestly doesn’t want to give them a try, and test them for ourselves? The glasses, if they reach their prospected popularity, will change the game of digital witnessing, and make it even simpler to share pictures of everything and everyone around us, at any moment of our lives.
People in our current “smartphone era” are obsessed with being digital witnesses and living by the motto “pics or it didn’t happen”. In The Truman Show, Truman is constantly digitally witnessed by anyone who watches the TV show of his life, and it sometimes seems as though we want to be in Truman’s position; the reason that we Instagram and tweet play-by-plays about our lives is pretty much due to the fact that there aren’t any hidden TV cameras always filming us, recording every move we make, with people watching everything we do. How are people going to know what I’m eating right at this second if I don’t Instagram a picture of my food? How will my friends know that I’m a Broadway show if i don’t tweet a picture of the Playbill? Without living in a Truman Show situation with a TV crew and hidden cameras to do the witnessing of us for us, we have to do it for ourselves.