Instagram + GPS = Cities, Now

A new site shows the beauty of cities around the world. But it also reminds us of the redefinition of privacy

A new site, This is Now, takes photographs from Instagram which are tagged with GPS data, and uses them to show you what is happening in nine cities around the world right now. So Las Vegas is full of drunk people:

Sydney is full of delightful dinners in the evening sun:

And London, inevitably, is all Olympics, all the time:

Two points come to mind. Firstly, this is beautiful. Everyone knows that different cities have different characters, and that that character changes radically throughout the day, but it's hard to demonstrate that short of actually living somewhere. Being able to view the stream of photos posted to instagram really does make those personalities clear, and because its pictures rather than text, it does so in a format you can actually absorb and engage with, rather that being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of data in front of you.

But secondly, how many of these people actually knew that we'd all be seeing their photos when they posted them? Not that there are - as yet - any particularly embarrasing pictures on the streams, at least none that I've seen. But there are people with very few followers who nonetheless ping up, and who can't have expected that people they would never meet will be looking at their holiday snaps from the Olympics. It's a stark reminder that unless something is explicitly private on the internet, it's public.

It doesn't matter if you have no followers on Instagram, if the URL of your blog is only shared with a few family members, or if your flickr account is only used for hosting images for forums: that stuff is public, and you should assume that people you don't know will see it. In fact, you should assume that people you do know, but don't want to see it, will see it. Privacy is not the default, but the exception. This is the way of the world, now.

In this case, at least, we've traded privacy for beauty. Was it worth it?

Some images from Sao Paulo

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

SHUTTERSTOCK / MONKEY BUSINESS IMAGES
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The price of accessing higher education

Should young people from low income backgrounds abandon higher education, or do they need more support to access it? 

The determination of over 400,000 young people to go into higher education (HE) every year, despite England having the most expensive HE system in the world, and particularly the determination of over 20,000 young people from low income backgrounds to progress to HE should be celebrated. Regrettably, there are many in the media and politics that are keen to argue that we have too many students and HE is not worth the time or expense.

These views stem partly from the result of high levels of student debt, and changing graduate employment markets appearing to diminish the payoff from a degree. It is not just economics though; it is partly a product of a generational gap. Older graduates appear to find it hard to come to terms with more people, and people from dissimilar backgrounds to theirs, getting degrees.  Such unease is personified by Frank Field, a veteran of many great causes, using statistics showing over 20 per cent of graduates early in their working lives are earning less than apprentices to make a case against HE participation. In fact, the same statistics show that for the vast majority a degree makes a better investment than an apprenticeship. This is exactly what the majority of young people believe. Not only does it make a better financial investment, it is also the route into careers that young people want to pursue for reasons other than money.

This failure of older "generations" (mainly politics and media graduates) to connect with young people’s ambitions has now, via Labour's surprising near win in June, propelled the question of student finance back into the spotlight. The balance between state and individual investment in higher education is suddenly up for debate again. It is time, however, for a much wider discussion than one only focussed on the cost of HE. We must start by recognising the worth and value of HE, especially in the context of a labour market where the nature of many future jobs is being rendered increasingly uncertain by technology. The twisting of the facts to continually question the worth of HE by many older graduates does most damage not to the allegedly over-paid Vice Chancellors, but the futures of the very groups that they purport to be most concerned for: those from low income groups most at risk from an uncertain future labour market.

While the attacks on HE are ongoing, the majority of parents from higher income backgrounds are quietly going to greater and greater lengths to secure the futures of their children – recent research from the Sutton Trust showed that in London nearly half of all pupils have received private tuition. It is naive in the extreme to suggest that they are doing this so their children can progress into anything other than higher education. It is fundamental that we try and close the social background gap in HE participation if we wish to see a labour market in which better jobs, regardless of their definition, are more equally distributed across the population. Doing this requires a national discussion that is not constrained by cost, but also looks at what schools, higher education providers and employers can do to target support at young people from low income backgrounds, and the relative contributions that universities, newer HE providers and further education colleges should make. The higher education problem is not too many students; it is too few from the millions of families on average incomes and below.

Dr. Graeme Atherton is the Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON). NEON are partnering with the New Statesman to deliver a fringe event at this year's Conservative party conference: ‘Sustainable Access: the Future of Higher Education in Britain’ on the Monday 2nd October 2017 from 16:30-17:30pm.