Friday, 24 October 2008

Nudity is an offence against human dignity!

X-Ray vision upsets some people

Some years ago, I attended a conference concerned with what to do with a PhD if you didn't want to stick with academia. This was precisely the sort of thing I really should have been writing down, seeing as I now have no job or offers to speak of, and am confused about where to start looking. In fact, I think I did write a lot of stuff down, but couldn't tell you where I left my notes, probably in the bar where the social took place afterwards, along with the memories of the night and a generous portion of the respect of my peers.

But I do remember a talk from a representative of QinetiQ, about the various technologies he was helping to develop in the name of security, defence, research or, in a nutshell, anything that might at some point turn a profit. One of the things he discussed was a scanner with wave amplitudes specifically arranged to scan beneath clothes, in an attempt to improve airport security, in both efficiency and thoroughness. He did mention that there'll probably be some objection to being able to see through people's clothes. Well, he was right.

It's a tricky one, but I'm leaning in favour of these devices. Largely because the technology is cool, and it brings into existence a crazy comic book superpower that most people assumed would always be fantasy. Like flight, or robots. But the main argument seems to be focused either on a violation of privacy or an affront to dignity. I don't think these two are essentially the same. For one thing, we've given up a lot of 'privacy' in recent years, what with CCTV, Speed cameras, online logging of all our activities, TV licensing crackdowns, ID cards etc. But a lot of privacy has been surrendered voluntarily, largely through websites like facebook, myspace or youtube. Thanks to facebook, I now have access to photographs of 3 lesbian weddings. I have no problem with that, but I never asked for that, it's not something I believed I'd ever see, let alone 3 times (at least). I can't talk, my own wedding photos are on there.

But wedding photo's are meant to viewed, that's the point. But you also get to see more risque pics of people. The anti-filth rules of most social networking sites mean the more exhibitionist of us has to be restrained, but if there were no such rules?.... Youtube is the same, if not worse. As an experiment, I just typed in 'my boobs' into youtube, assuming that no women (the same gender that regularly gets enraged when anyone with a Y chromosome stairs at their chest swellings despite how much they've drawn attention to them, don't deny it!) would just post a video showing off their breasts to every seedy bloke with web access. I was wrong, there're lots.

But it is different I'll admit, as the web offers a large degree of anonymity. If thousands of lonely blokes were stood right in front of them, they probably wouldn't feel as comfortable displaying their 'assets'. And fair enough. There may also be an element of separation, in that it's not 'really real' if it's on a computer screen. It's sort of 'false', a representation rather than the real thing. I can see that. But then, 'I can see that' is the problem.

But that brings us back to this X ray device. It doesn't actually see you directly, it generates a false image of what you have under your clothes. But to a lot of people, that counts. It wouldn't bother me so much, because looking at my naked body would definitely count as 'work' rather than 'pleasure'. I wouldn't get annoyed at someone who cleaned out a toilet I'd blocked, because his interacting with my biomatter is a violation of my privacy. I'd guess he's enjoying it less than anything and is in fact doing me a favour. But some people don't think this way. It's interesting that it's politicians getting their teeth into this, European ones at that. But not Dutch ones, I assume, that wouldn't conform to stereotypes.

Maybe it is a bit invasive, but then everything about the airport is. I'd happily let some poor git stare at a false image of my body for a few seconds if it meant getting through check-in quicker. What's to stop him or anyone else just superimposing a pic of my head on a random nude body? Nothing, and I'd be OK with that. it would be an improvement if anything. But the words 'dignity' and 'airport' rarely got together, where you undergo several humiliations in order to spend hours in a metal tube sucking in the emitted gasses of dozens of strangers. They can strip search you if they want, this seems like the lesser of two evils. And who'll be the people most unwilling to undergo this sort of scan? Crazy fundamentalists. You see what I'm getting at? We might all get a pleasant flight for once. And the technology is great, let's see how far we can take it. Maybe even medical applications will arise. Can you imagine a colonoscopy without an endoscope? If you can, don't. It's a hideous image however it works.

(Several mentions of boobs, nudity, lesbians and X-ray vision in this blog, may get some more unusual readers this time around)

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