Camera + minicopter = your very own Truman show

The week's most unusual business idea.

We live in a confused world. While we fret over privacy concerns - Google collecting our personal data, ID cards that can track our every move - we also merrily share the most mundane of details of our lives with an extended network of "friends" - it's perfectly possible for us to sign a petition against the sharing of our personal data while broadcasting our location, emotional state and shopping habits without a moment's thought for the blatant disconnect that's going on here.

Regardless of the walking contradiction our lives have become, new business ideas keep popping up that make the most of our predilection for over-sharing. So the introduction of the MeCam was only a matter of time - a mini helicopter that flies around you filming your every move, the results of which can then be shared with social networks. If you thought that your friend's endless stream of instagrammed dinner plates was worthy of a shot in the head then you'd do well to remove yourself from society if this latest idea is an indicator of things to come.

Of course, there are situations where this little gadget could be useful, say you stumble across a mugger down a dark alley then you've got a neat little prosecution case in the subsequent footage. Equally, court cases that have fallen apart because of a lack of evidence or witnesses at the crime scene could benefit from an inconspicuous little hover cam capturing every second.

But so far the inventors are guiding their robotic gnat down a social avenue. This means that every second of your daily life can be shared - we can all become the subject of our very own Truman Show, but without the creative direction, interesting characters or narrative arc. It does beg the question, with all this watching who's doing the living? But who cares when you can replay your friend falling face first into a puddle of mud endlessly on repeat.

Under surveillance. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.