December 12, 2003

Digital v. Analog Cameras, or Why We Must Think More Explicitly About Public and Private Social Spaces

The NYTimes today has an op-ed piece on cell phone's with digital cameras. They totally don't get it. Yes, these phones can be invasive, but any camera could take the kinds of pictures they are complaining about. The real issue is that each time a new disruptive, and often digital, technology arrives, we, the slow moving humans who need time to adapt, have to adjust our social norms. And a critical mass of this adjustment needs to happen before most people are on the same page, in this case making a distinction between public and private places where is either is appropriate, or not, to take photos that may violate people's privacy.

In other words, a gym changing room is a private space. We don't take pictures there now, so why would we do it with a phone camera? A sidewalk is a public space, so if a picture is taken, well, you were out in public. I realize these phone/cameras make it so much easier to take pictures, etc. but the real controversy is whether people get to control the pictures taken of them. Right now, the law says the picture taker owns the picture. Paparazzi anyone? However, do we now regulate this in private spaces, such as workspaces, private business spaces such as gyms and gym locker rooms, offices and homes? Verses say, the street, the park, the city council meeting, the little league game? Some privace spaces are regulated simply because some people are kept out, becasue they represent private property, workplaces restrict certain behaviors, etc.

Without thinking about it, we humans wander in and out of private, semi-private and public spaces, and now the phone/camera is confronting us in a few cases by violating the implicit social norms we were used to before, without realizing it. My suggestion? Rather than regulating, we use peer pressure to acclimate people to respect the differences between these spaces, so that people understand explicitly why some behaviors are anti-social and inappropriate in particular kinds of spaces.

Update 12/15/03: Digital vs. Analog Photography

Glenn Reynolds has a comparison of digital verses analog photography regarding quality of the images and flexibility of use. He also suggests that if Ansel Adams had had Photoshop, he would have used it.

Posted by Mary Hodder at December 12, 2003 08:27 AM | TrackBack