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IT and authenticity August 9, 2010

Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , trackback

One of the few amusing items to emerge from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the Photoshopping of images on BP’s Web site. Basically, BP touched up photos of its disaster command center and other images like a helicopter cabin to make it appear they were more on top of things than it seemed. The Photoshopping was not particularly well executed, making the attempt all the more pathetic. Wired magazine then held a contest to see how well their readers could touch up the same photos, with some very funny results.

BP joke image

(Image courtesy of

These events remind me of one of the perennial concerns about IT, which is its apparent lack of discrimination between real and fake data. That is, IT treats information that same, whether or not it is accurate or a propos. One effect of this agnosticism is that a society that depends so much on IT will become indifferent about the truthfulness of the information it trades on. Will we exchange a preference for the truth with a preference for truthiness? The ease with which photos are retouched in order to make false suggestions seems to support this concern.

Perhaps it is useful to know that the same technology can be used to sharpen our grasp of the truth and even our appreciation for it. This recent FastCompany article points out that IT could (and has) help to correct blown sports calls. Remember the disallowed English goal against Germany in the 2010 FIFA World Cup? Anyone with instant replay could see that the ball was in whereas the referees, without the benefit of that technology, called it no goal.

It may be that the very casual usage of CGI effects and the like has inspired a desire for authenticity in the public. Witness the recent Old Spice Guy commercials which, besides turning female viewers on to aftershave, gave audiences the thrill of seeing fancy tricks carried out without the aid of IT-provided special effects. Trickery? Yes, but real trickery, whatever that is. Refreshing.

However, is this thirst for authentic action just a fad? Maybe. Yet, the very controversy around these retouched photos suggests that people have not let go of their concern for the facts even when immersed in a medium that gives the facts no special weight.


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