New Etiquette for the Always On Observers

Two recent articles highlight the side effect of "wearable computing" – personal cameras that automatically capture the world around us. First is this piece from a Wired writer describing his year as a Google Glass user:

My Glass experiences have left me a little wary of wearables because I’m never sure where they’re welcome. I’m not wearing my $1,500 face computer on public transit where there’s a good chance it might be yanked from my face. I won’t wear it out to dinner, because it seems as rude as holding a phone in my hand during a meal. I won’t wear it to a bar. I won’t wear it to a movie. I can’t wear it to the playground or my kid’s school because sometimes it scares children.

Next up is a piece in The Wall Street Journal about cameras you can clip to your shirt so they can take pictures automatically throughout the day:

But there's a cost to amassing so much photographic evidence. The tiny cameras made others uncomfortable when they found out they were being recorded. Some friends wouldn't hug me; gossiping colleagues kept asking, "Is that thing on?" These devices upset a fundamental (though arguably flawed) assumption that even in public, you aren't being recorded.

Makes you squirm, doesn't it? One reason I wanted to review these cameras is that this kind of technology isn't going away. "Always on" cameras are becoming popular in home electronics like the Xbox One and a new wave of streaming video security systems. Now you can buy cameras that attach to your wrist, ear, bike helmet and eyeglasses. They're also fast becoming part of the uniforms of cops, soldiers and doctors.

Both articles explore the positive utilities of these devices, but the authors also highlighted the discomfort that these things caused in people around them. It's not surprising when you think about how uncomfortable you'd be if someone were to just start snapping pictures of you with a traditional camera while you're out and about, but it's even more discomfiting when you realize that people can do it without you even knowing it. What this means is that in the very near future we're going to go through a societal learning stage about what will be the appropriate (polite?) way to use these new devices.

What's scary is that we still haven't mastered the etiquette for proper mobile phone usage and those things have been with us for 20 years! Hell, someone was shot and killed in Tampa this month because of dispute over texting in a movie theater, so it's a bit scary to think what we'll be seeing with these always-on cameras. Of course we'll figure it out eventually but there are going to be many uncomfortable moments until we do.

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