Kevin is playing with using his new helmet-cam to record his everyday experience. I did this a few years ago, trying to record an entire day, using a webcam and my laptop. Mine was, by necessity, shoulder-mounted, rather than head-mounted, which has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The idea runs back to Mann’s sousveillance or Brin’s reciprocal transparency, though I have to say that the term only gets at a slice of what I think this starts to get at. Really, it remains surveillance, and but with you as the “surveillor” and gateway to other people looking in. That is, the camera is naturally a panoptic device, a one-way mirror, and as such you have to wonder who is or will be observing you. When I did this, I wore a label next to the camera saying “You are being recorded,” and this resulted in a lot of discussions like the one Kevin has in this clip.

The emergence, however, of YouTube and similar services changes the nature of the video camera. In the past, there was always the possibility that something captured on a camcorder could be shown to others, and–if interesting enough–sold to the evening news. Now, however, at least in certain circles, there is the assumption that some form of the video is likely to find its way out onto the web. This makes the camera a different kind of device, and our cultural assumptions and public policy will change as this shift becomes complete.

On the one hand, someone taking pictures of a birthday party at a restaurant has become a common thing to see. But when those photos are likely to be published publicly, and facial recognition (either computer-driven or human-driven, as on FaceBook) becomes the norm, that camera takes on a new intrusiveness. One could even see restaurants outlawing cameras; which, of course, also means outlawing camera phones. Already, this is an issue for those going to courts where camera phones are not allowed. Imagine what happens when camera phones are not allowed in a quarter of the restaurants you visit.

I’m glad Kevin has done this. I’ve been planning on retrying my shoulder-mounted cam (in much lower resolution than Kevin’s new camera!) and do a “day in the life” or “week in the life.” While these kinds of experiments have been going on for a long time now within relatively limited groups (mostly wearables researchers), it will be interesting to see the degree to which amateur panveillance becomes more common in the coming months and years.

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  1. Posted 3/1/2007 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts… indeed thanks to video sharing sites such as YouTube, it does give more reason to dabble in this idea of “panveillance” (warning: new word detected). On the subject of empowerment, who really gains from this becomes the question. As Brennan (the young guy in the video) puts it, “behind my third eye lies 10,000 other eyes”.

    BTW, can you take pictures of your setup? I’m interested in trying to make a shoulder-mount as well. I might try using a cap with a hole, but the wires are irritating. As a matter of ethics, I’d warn people that I’m recording just like you. :)

  2. alex
    Posted 3/1/2007 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Last time I tried it was with a huge (by comparison) web cam gaffer-taped to my shoulder, and a backpack for the laptop with a foam-core frame to keep it from overheating. (This was an old fanless Vaio, which I will probably use again for the project.) This time around I’m going to use a smaller Creative laptop cam–terrible picture, but not as bulky. Not quite sure what to do about sound, yet. I’m assuming your liptstick cam has integrated sound? Anyway, when I get around to giving this another go (it’s in my MaybeSomeday file right now), I’ll be sure to document it. You having done it encourages me to move it up in the queue :).

  3. Posted 3/1/2007 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, you could try to buy a second-hand Archos unit for cheaps… I think the Archos 404 is the smallest DVR you can get, and the cheapest of the lot. The camera is a Sony build, augmented to 640 x 480 (actually it’s more like PAL/NTSC with 512 lines) with the mic being part of the wired controller (I do bump into it time to time). The audio sampling rate is a little weird to me, 32Khz and 48Khz… why not 22Hkz and 44Khz which is what most applications playback. Flash apps (e.g. YouTube) might have trouble playing back audio not in that sampling ratio.

    That’s probably how I’d go too… but instead of tape, I’d find a small backpack and get some elastic band sewed into the shoulder strap. Now I just need to find some web service that auto-transcribes video for me, and lets me search it…

  4. Posted 3/1/2007 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    This page happens to show both the Archos 404 and the camera:

  5. Posted 3/1/2007 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Sorry if I’m flooding your comments, but I found a good collection of interesting camera mounts for our body cameras at

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] Update My academic sensei, Alex Halavais, calls this a form of “panveillance”. You won’t find that word anywhere because it’s a new one. As he explains, “[t]he […]

  2. […] 20/20 (2006) • Sousveillance in China by Virtual China (Professional vs. Citizen Journalism) • “Panveillance” interpreted by Prof. Alex Halavais (Mar 2007) • “Mobile Phones with Videos – and […]

  3. […] etc) Besides experimenting with video (and now GPS) as forms of memory prosthetic (hat tip to Alex Halavais), the other aspect of this project leaks into lifestreaming, which (ideally) rolls up my online to […]

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