March 8, 2005

Cameraphones as personal storytelling

Howard Rheingold has just written an interesting summary of a paper by Keio University researcher Daisuke Okabe. Okabe has made an ethnographic study of cameraphone usage in Japan.

On the one hand, it’s what we already know ourselves (those who use them): We archive our lives, important moments, silly moments, etc. and we also use it as a kind of “personal note taking” device. It’s also becoming responsible for a media form that’s about strings of moments, a kind of personal photojournalism.

What’s refreshing is the completely different attitude to the moral panic that’s going on in Australia about cameras in public places. Some local councils have now taken the step of banning all cameras on the beach in case “perverts” take photos of topless sunbathers (and children of course). So that means anyone from a professional photographer to a tourist to a parent taking snaps of their child runs the risk of being pestered by police.

Every small step to reclaim public space seems to be constantly jumped upon by government and corporate interests. Mobiles, blogs and camerphones chip away at this trend so well documented in Naomi Klein’s Fences and Windows. As if Australia didn’t have enough Government and bureaucracy as it is…

What’s sad is that many of these people in a panic appear to have no real idea of how any of this technology works, or how people actually use it. One suggestion has been to make cameraphones flash when they take a photo and, in Korea, they’re forced to make a “shutter” sound. As if someone taking surreptitious photos couldn’t put a bit of tape over the Flash or disable the sound. Or even use a real camera. Perhaps they should read Okabe’s paper and we need some research on Australian culture too.