As lifeloggers, we capture the details of our own lives using a variety of tools, from pen and paper to the latest high-tech sensors. What does it mean when another person’s image or location is captured incidentally? How will non-lifeloggers feel about being lifelogged? Is there a new etiquette forming around 1-on-1 surveillance?
At this year’s Quantified Self Europe conference, Memoto offered up the prototype of their lifelogging camera to see how people would respond both to wearing the camera, and to being unwittingly photographed. Four veteran Quantified-Selfers volunteered to take turns donning the device, which automatically snaps a photo every thirty seconds. At the end of the day, we gathered for a town hall discussion about the ethical and psychological outcomes of the experiment.
In general, the camera made the wearer more uncomfortable than those who were photographed. All four participants reported feeling awkward about if, how, and when to mention, “I’m taking your photo.” When they did, their subjects did not seem at all perturbed. Of course, this is a QS conference. We’re used to being tracked.
If it’s logged, people believe it will be shared. The conversation was largely focused on whether it’s ok to put candid photos of other people on the internet. Since lifelogs are by and large personal, private experiments, I wonder why there’s so much anxiety about their publication. Memoto stores photos privately, and unless that changes, random photos of you from unflattering angles are unlikely to ever appear in public. But there is something unsettling about knowing that they could be.
Wearing a camera may change your behavior. A couple of the volunteers reported feeling that they did not want their photo stream to come off as boring. Whitney Erin Boesel mentioned feeling more insecure about her social awkwardness, because she wouldn’t want to be seen not interacting with other people at a conference. So she made a point of interacting while she wore the camera.
If there’s a camera, it’s better to be behind it. All four participants reported feeling unhappy to give up the camera, but not because they were having so much fun. There was only one Memoto camera, and as long as they were wearing it, they knew where it was. Oddly, only the people who wore the camera seemed to feel this uneasiness about not knowing where the camera might be.
There’s an alarming trend of resignation to surveillance. A number of attendees expressed the sentiment that there’s nothing we can do about ubiquitous surveillance, so we might as well accept it. Really? Surely we’re not ready to lie down for a dystopian police state? But I admit to sharing in this resignation to a degree. I’m being photographed by surveillance cameras, satellite cameras, drones operated by hobbyists, random smartphones in bars, and who knows what else. Believing that I can control how my image is used seems a bit far-fetched. But I think there is a line to be drawn at some point.
It’s different for women. Whitney Erin Boesel brought up a great point. We still live in a sexist culture with double standards about what is acceptable behavior for men and women. While men can be rather cavalier about candid photos floating around out there, women are much more likely to be judged. While there may be nothing immoral or illegal about, say, going clubbing, could photos seen by colleagues change their opinion of a woman’s professional reputation?
We have no idea what to do with all of these photos. There’s some concern that producing massive quantities of digital imagery will create data noise, with negligible signal. It’s not easy to make meaning out of data, especially when it’s visual data. Adding other sensors and services can provide more context.
As products like Memoto, Google Glass, and Autographer become mainstream, this conversation will become even more important. QS participants are spearheading discussions that everyone should take part in. Lifelogging is no longer just for data-driven self-hackers, it’s for everyone. Download Saga for Android or iOS and join the lifelogging revolution.