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!

reality
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.

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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.