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As an input on the surveillance issue, as well as the future of video communication, on which I am doing a concept, I found this article from the Experientia Blog Newsletter:

Video ethnography Architecture and design magazine Icon has published a 4 page article on video ethnography in its latest issue.

“The video ethnographers’ findings are gold dust to their clients and video ethnography has become one of the fashionable research techniques that any forward-looking design company now offers. The technology of closeup, real-time observation, using lightweight digital equipment, plays an increasingly significant role in the design process. If you want to find out about the people who will use a product or service, or to explore the potential for creating new products, call in a video ethnographer to film your subjects where they live or work. […]

Video ethnography is an extremely powerful technique so it is disturbing that, at a time when surveillance cameras watch us around the clock, designers seem largely unconcerned by the ethical problems it raises. The outcome of a video ethnography research project might, of course, be entirely altruistic, yielding an understanding of human needs that can only be a gain. On the other hand, the findings might provide companies with insights into our motivations that could be used to prompt us to buy their products and select their services, without ever knowing how or why we took their bait. If subtle forms of persuasion turn out to be video ethnography’s most usual purpose, then is it a technique that a responsible design community should support?”

The article is quite concerned with the ethical implications of using video ethnography for market research and ends as follows:

“Despite the new rhetoric of empathy and inclusiveness, of involving the user and understanding people’s needs, the person pointing the camera still occupies a position of authority in relation to the subject. This is no less real just because it is concealed beneath a soft blanket of warm feeling. When the research outcome is socially beneficial, as it is in healthcare, few would find any reason to object to the technique. The problem lies in the very 21st-century confusion between understanding people better to help them and understanding them better to manipulate their behaviour as consumers.”

Most of my concepts now represent a critical, and perhaps a bit pessimistic, view of the future involving RFID, Wireless technology and the other side of all the useful applications they will bring; our being subjects to technology and the apparent possibility to use it for more and more surveillance of our lives. This approach represents my scepticism and my honest opinion that we need to seriously ask some critical questions to the development of this technology. Perhaps it`s naive; there are too many forces at work to ensure the implementation of RFID in as many applications and services as possible to stop it, and that is not my goal or desire either. But I do think that we need to stay very alert when designing for these types of technology, and the way in which we implement them, and with regard to my own project; when I explain the concept to today`s adults and elders, they mostly respond in the same way as I do; with great scepticism.

That is why I now try and create some critical concepts as well as “supporting” concepts, because they reflect this natural scepticism. “We are used to a certain degree of freedom, and we want to keep it that way. We certainly don`t want any less.” Scenarios like that of Wal-Mart, where you will be identified at the entrance and tracked throughout the shopping mall may seem like a small thing to some, but if this becomes the standard everyday life for us, it will surely become unbearable pretty soon.

The privilige and freedom to be “invisible” from the all-seeing eye of the network of sensors, readers and cameras will be harder and harder to obtain, perhaps only obtainable for the wealthy and priviliged, whereas those of us who need to stay connected for whatever economic or social reasons will have to subcome to being visible.

I`ve made some simple icons to illustrate the feeling of a surrender to, and struggle against, the surveillance that RFID can bring.

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