The Real 'Truman Show': 8 Ways Live-Streaming Will Change Our Lives

by Nick Stoner

Meerkat and Periscope are the first two apps to prove the live-streaming revolution is here.

While we’ve been recording our lives online for a while now, there’s something that makes live-streaming different from a tweet or Snap.

It’s subtle, but it exists. When NBC decided to air "The Sound of Music Live," it was a ratings bonanza, no doubt thanks to the faded "LIVE" icon in the corner of the screen.

Live events are different. They’re exciting, titillating, dangerous.

Isn’t that the point of watching a man walk between skyscrapers? The chance that something will go wrong?

When events unfold live, the viewer becomes a participant in the moment. To know the future, you must watch.

So, because live social media will certainly be different from good old-fashioned social media, it seems pertinent to explore some of the ways the world will change when we can all stream our lives... live.

1. Sports

It’s unlikely your Meerkat stream from the upper deck will crowd out the ESPNs of the world, broadcasting in super-slow-mo HD.

However, it might be able to offer different perspectives on the same game.

Ever wonder how shallow the left fielder is playing during certain critical moments of a baseball game?

Ever wanted to see how David de Gea, keeper for Manchester United, organizes his defense before a Chelsea counter attack?

With live- streaming, it will become possible to follow every player on the field individually. Or, anyone, for that matter. A stream dedicated to the coach? Why not? One for the water boy? Sure.

While you might not see the value in following an obscure position outside of the play, a coach or player trying to understand his or her opponent’s strategy in different situations certainly will.

Combining live-streams of players reacting to situations with the data-intensive techniques already employed will keep making sports more of a science than an art. And, for us viewers, we’ll be able to watch, understand and be fans of the game like never before.

2. Policing

In response to a recent spree of police violence, body cameras for officers are increasingly becoming a topic of conversation.

However, many jurisdictions are resisting wiring up their cops since a camera might find the officer at fault when violence (which is often deadly) occurs.

It’s only natural to want to protect your own people from prosecution.

Introducing live-stream changes this debate in an important way. Now, instead of viewing video after an incident, an officer will be able to approach a potentially dangerous situation while broadcasting the scene live back to HQ.

The military already does this. Mission Control up to the president watches military events unfold from drones and LIVE camera streams every day. For the first time, that capability is open to every cop on every beat.

Imagine in the new, high-tech police headquarters springing up around the country, a secondary team is watching events unfold on camera.

Often, police are given leeway for using excessive force due to the inherent danger of their jobs.

Was the suspect reaching for a gun? Were they raising their arms to surrender or fight?

A secondary team, removed from the intensity of the situation on the ground, may do a better job of interpreting events. They may be the voice of reason that says, “Don’t shoot.”

Live cameras can make police interactions more analytical and less confrontational. This can reduce the level of burden on the officer to make a split-second decision and gives the suspect the peace of mind that someone else without a gun on his or her hip is watching.

3. Politics

In the same vein of bringing the police under control, live-streaming could usher in an age of accountability in politics, too. While C-SPAN does its best to bring us events from the Congressional floor, it's still unclear what’s happening inside all those committees, fundraisers and backdoor deals.

Perhaps, a politician on a crusade to win trust will begin live-streaming all of the day-to-day business: every lobbying meeting, constituent interaction and bill-writing session.

With the watchdogs always listening in, a huge portion of corruption may be eliminated.

Perhaps, the day will come when we won’t trust politicians who don't live-stream around the clock.

As a democracy, we could dictate this sort of action with our votes, demanding our representatives and senators, even our president, make their business not just transparent, but visually transparent.

While this may sound drastic, let’s not forget they’re watching us. From tracking our emails and calls to spying through our computer cameras, our lives are on display not just in public, but also in our own homes.

Perhaps, the increasing threat from terrorists and empowered individuals able to wreak havoc without any state support will require us to surrender ever-increasing levels of privacy.

How can we remain a democracy if we do not gain something in return? If they can watch us, we must be able to watch them.

Their business is our business, and if the government can keep us safe, we must keep the government accountable.

4. Journalism

Citizen journalism is about to reach an apex where an individual is finally on par with the likes of CNN and other international broadcasters.

Marches, uprisings, battles, celebrations, tragedies — we won’t hear about them the next day unless we watch them happen live.

Undoubtedly, it will become a job at the large networks to find the world’s biggest stories in real time and amplify them.

While institutional journalism will maintain authority on expert opinions and access to leaders, citizens will become the eyes of the world.

It isn’t hard to imagine a future news organization, run from a central location, using the live feed of millions of people to keep the airwaves full 24/7. An organization like that would be curators, not just of the news, but of the story humanity told that day.

5. Education

Online classes are remaking education, but they’re still surrounded with skepticism.

One of the main critiques is that students watching a lecture online aren’t able to interact with professors. Right now, dropout rates for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is around 90 percent.

Companies have tried to fix this problem by breaking up long online lectures with quizzes, offering mixed programs where students take some classes online and also go to the campus and offer limited interactions.

But, the Holy Grail would, of course, be live interactions with the professor and the class. Now, that’s possible.

If a villager in India wants to drop in on your Psych 300 class, what’s going to stop him or her if someone in the front has a live-stream?

He or she will be able to ask questions in real time and benefit by feeling like a student in the class, rather than an outsider.

While some schools will undoubtedly try to ban this, forward-thinking institutions will encourage their professors to make themselves celebrities. Students from around the world will flock to the professors with the biggest followings online.

A single hire of a “viral” professor could change the revenue stream of a school.

Live-streaming may also allow a student to attain a degree simultaneously from multiple universities, like completing a liberal arts degree in New York and an engineering degree in the California, for example.

But, it isn’t just American colleges that are primed to change. Fully-realized MOOCs may finally bring quality education to every corner of the world (where the Internet is available, at least).

6. "The Truman Show" Effect

"The Truman Show" was a brilliant critique on the media from a time before reality TV took off.

Now we have reality TV, which made the idea of following people’s lives common. And, while we all understand reality TV is scripted and staged by “real” people, what will happen when real real people begin broadcasting their lives?

Will we follow that guy in Utah who streams his morning commute every day? Will we watch that lady in Indiana with 30 cats? YouTube has already made stars out of many ordinary people.

When we begin streaming our lives, who will we choose to watch? Will we elevate the banality of someone’s ordinary life to the level of entertainment? And, what happens when we grow tired of watching?

In the words of the security guard at the end of "The Truman Show,"

“Where’s the TV Guide?”

7. Transported Experience

If we do find Trumans out there to follow, what happens when we watch their lives so much that we lose track of ourselves?

Surely, we’ll become invested in watching the real struggles and triumphs of ordinary people. Is it possible we’ll become so attached to another person’s experience that it will transport us — that we feel what they feel to the point of suffering when they do?

There are distancing mechanisms at work when you watch a reporter read the news. You can listen to a story about a bomb falling on a house and killing several women and children because the reporter has distanced you from the event.

The reporter takes in the firsthand account and absorbs much of the blow. Hearing the reporter's secondhand account distances you from reality.

Now, imagine you’re watching a live-stream of a family running to shelter during an air raid, when suddenly, there’s a cackle and the screen goes black. It dawns on you you’re a witness to a real death at that very moment.

That realization may be more shocking than anything we experience in the media today.

Looking toward the future of virtual reality, a space Facebook is already going, this jarring experience only becomes more real when you inhabit the environment of the stream you’re watching.

When you’re walking in someone’s shoes, you may forget your own.

8. Behavior Modification

We see what lengths news organizations go to get eyeballs. They send reporters into hurricanes and warzones.

What will the people who begin to gather a large following by streaming do to appease their audience?

Ever wonder what would’ve happened to Truman if he hadn’t escaped his bubble? What if he had listened to everyone trying to get him to stay and chosen to perform for the audience? Would he still be free, or would his life be an act?

Taking this into the real world, will a rebel in a warzone take more risks for more compelling action? Will a child attempt dangerous stunts to get attention? What situations will pseudo-celebrities seek out in an effort to say, “Look over here! Watch me!”

Want a small example of the way social media has already changed all of our behaviors? A restaurant in New York found that the average mealtime per guests is an hour longer than it was a decade ago.

The reason? Our phones. We Instagram our plates. We text while our food is hot. We take pictures of our party.

Live-streaming adds a new dimension to everything. People will be watching. Are there limits to the things we will do to make an audience happy?

It is possible I’ve overblown some of the changes envisioned here, but I don’t believe I have. Video has always been a game-changing technology.

When we all have the power to stream our lives live to the world, things will change. The changes may be benign, or they may be extreme.

After all, it isn’t hard to imagine our narcissistic selves streaming all of our lives 24/7, all of us performers and all of us voyeurs of the minutiae of each other’s lives.

At that point, what will be left to discover for ourselves when we can pick up our phones and watch someone else live for us?

If that happens, I’ll definitely be looking for that TV Guide.