A Teen Reality Show About Smartphone Surveillance. Fun!

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 28 2014 6:09 PM

A Teen Reality Show About Smartphone Surveillance. Fun!

Wouldn't you be worried about putting your Google searches on television?

Screencap from Channel 4.

Sometimes reality TV gets a little repetitive (another cupcake baking competition?) and it starts to feel like the days of the cutting-edge concept are over. But boy, would you be wrong. How about a show that follows teens as they start their freshman year of college, all the while running constant surveillance software on their cellphones? Well, it already exists in the United Kingdom, and it’s called The Secret Life of Students.

Airing on Channel 4 this summer, Secret Life follows 12 students “exploring the drama of their new experiences and sharing their texts, tweets, pictures, videos, and status updates.” The show surveils the participants' iPhones using special software developed by the studio, Raw TV, and called a “digital rig,” according to Ars Technica. Using the software, the production crew monitored the students’ phones 13 hours a day, seven days a week during filming.


The show proudly advertises its ability to monitor everything from texts to Facebook posts to Google searches, as you can see in the teaser below. Though it was a little bit difficult for the show to create the level of drama it would have needed to be really compelling (it’s about teens starting their freshman year ... that's it), it’s interesting to see a show present surveillance as a gimmick. Especially because in the process of doing so, Secret Life is tacitly sending the message that surveillance is benign and something these students just live with and accept, even temporarily.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.