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Learning log#3

#3 and #6 at the end of “The Perfect Icon for an Imperfect Postliterate World”

Assignment. Answer Questions

#1 and #4 at the end of “Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape.”

Explanation of Learning Logs During the course you will be keeping a learning log in which you will answer a specified number of discussion questions from The World of the Image. This anthology includes a wide range of readings on the visual image in culture, from perspectives in science, anthropology, psychology, art, and the media. The anthology will help introduce you to the various disciplines you will study in the liberal studies major and give you practice in assessing arguments. These questions are designed to give you the opportunity to reflect on the readings and make connections between the disciplines represented in the anthology. You will submit this log to your instructor at the end of each Module during the term. As informal writing, the log will be graded based on whether you have entered a response to an assigned question and the clarity of your response. Although writing is relaxed for this assignment regarding cover pages, headings, and line spacing, you still must include information from your readings to meet level four on the grading rubric and clarify your response. Please make sure these reading conclusions are format compliant with in-text citations and with the reference at the end of the log entry

ISBN: 978-0-13-443199-4 Smoke, Trudy, and Alan Robbins. The World of the Image. New Jersey: Pearson/Longman, 2007. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0-321-38882-7

The Perfect Icon for an Imperfect

Postliterate World

75

The Perfect Icon for an Imperfect

Postliterate World

READ MERCER SCHUCHARDT

Read Mercer Schuchardt has a Ph.D. in Media Ecology from New York University. He is Assistant Professor of International Communications at Franklin College in Switzerland. Schuchardt has taught courses in communications history and theory, intemersonal communications, film, and media politics at Marymount College and expository writing at New York University. His publications have appeared in many journals. His 1997 article “The Perfect Icon for an Imperfect Postliterate World, ” reflects two of his interests: religious symbolism and contemporary corporate iconography.

Getting Started

Sometimes in advertising a symbol or icon becomes so well known that the name of the product does not even need to be mentioned for us to recognize it. How many examples of this can you think of? Do you think this is becoming more common or less? What do you think are the most effective “textless” icons and what makes these work so well? Are you attracted to familiar logos and do you prefer to wear them on your clothes? Schuchardt suggests that there is almost a religious power to icons like these. Do you agree and do you think this is a good thing or not?

he early followers of Christ created a symbol to represent their I beliefs and communicate with one another in times of persecution. The well-known icthus, or “Christian fish,” consisted of two curved lines that transected each other to form the abstract outline of fish and tail. The word for fish also happened to be a Greek acronym wherein:

Iota = lesous = Jesus

Chi = Christos = Christ

Theta = Theos = God

Upsilon = Huios = Son

Sigma = Soter = Savior

76 Read Mercer Schuchardt

believers with explained and lions forced Without the could mean culture hostile to still signified three cenRome into
a symbol can that time. Enter country, and emulate. In a are convergfascinating case successful formula
Oregon design create a logo idea of importNike’s innovaand brand mental link beAs Nike put it, knew it wouldn’t alone. Nike March 1996 Nike name and campaign set a truly successful manufactured
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an icon. The any size, in any elements for a a quarter of one of three arit nevertheless

5

Combining symbol and word, the fish provided an integrated media package that could be easily understood. When the threat of being fed to the Christians to be less explicit, they dropped the text. acronym to define the symbol’s significance, the fish anything or nothing, an obvious advantage in a certain beliefs. But to Christians the textless symbol silent rebellion against the ruling authorities. Within turies, the faith signified by the fish had transformed a Christian empire.

Today, in an electronically accelerated culture, change the face of society in about one-sixteenth the Nike Swoosh, the most ubiquitous icon in the one that many other corporations have sought to world where technology, entertainment, and design ing, the story of the Swoosh is by far the most study of a systematic, integrated, and insanely for icon-driven marketing.

The simple version of the story is that a young student named Caroline Davidson got $35 in 1971 to for then-professor (now Nike CEO) Phil Knight’s ing and selling improved Japanese running shoes. tive product line, combined with aggressive marketing positioning, eventually created an unbreakable tween the Swoosh image and the company’s name. there was so much equity in the brand that they hurt to drop the word Nike and go with the Swoosh went to the textless format for U.S. advertising in and expanded it globally later that year. While the symbol appear together in ads today, the textless new standard. In the modern global market, the icon must be able to stand by itself, evoking all the associations that form a corporation’s public identity.

In the past, it would have been unthinkable to campaign stripped of the company’s name. Given stake—Nike’s advertising budget totals more than per year—what made them think they could pull it

First, consider the strength of the Swoosh as Swoosh is a simple shape that reproduces well at color, and on almost any surface—three critical corporate logo that will be reproduced at sizes from an inch to 500 feet. It most frequently appears in resting colors: black, red, or white. A textless icon,

The Perfect Icon for an Imperfect Postliterate World 77

“reads” left to right, like most languages. Now consider the sound of the word Swoosh. According to various Nike ads, it’s the last sound you hear before coming in second place, the sound of a basketball hitting nothing but net. It’s also the onomatopoeic analogue of the icon’s visual stroke. Reading it left to right, the symbol itself actually seems to say “swoosh” as you look at it.

However it may read, the Swoosh transcends language, making it the perfect corporate icon for the postliterate global village.

With the invention of the printing press, according to the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, the alphabet triumphed over the icon. But in an overstimulated electronic culture, the chief problem is what advertisers call “clutter?’ or “chatter”—too many words, too much redundancy, too many competing messages. Add the rise of illiteracy and an increasingly multicultural world and you have a real communications problem. A hyper-linked global economy requires a single global communications medium, and it’s simply easier to teach everyone a few common symbols than to teach the majority of non-English speakers a new language.

The unfortunate result is that language is being replaced by icons. From the rock star formerly known as Prince to e-mail “smileys” to the NAFTA-induced symbolic laundry labels, the names and words we use to describe the world are being replaced by a set of universal hieroglyphs. Leading the charge, as one would expect, are the organizations that stand to make the most money in a less text-dependent world: multinational corporations. With the decline of words, they now can fill the blank of the consumer’s associative mind with whatever images they deem appropriate.

Some powerful modern logos manage to appropriate other 10 images and their meanings. The Mercedes-Benz icon, for instance, is easily confused with the peace sign (an association that can only help). Pepsi’s new symbol needs little or no verbal justification because it so clearly imitates the yin-yang symbol. In fact, a close look reveals it to be almost identical to the South Korean national flag, which is itself a stylized yin-yang symbol in red, white, and blue.

Never underestimate the power of symbols. Textless corporate symbols operate at a level beneath the radar of rational Ianguage, and the power they wield can be corrupting. Advertising that relies on propaganda methods can grab you and take you somewhere whether you want to go or not; and as history tells us, it matters where you’re going.

Language is the mediator between our minds and the world, and the thing that defines us as rational creatures. By going textless,

78 Read Mercer Schuchardt

Nike and other corporations have succeeded in performing partial lobotomies on our brains, conveying their messages without engaging our rational minds. Like Pavlov’s bell, the Swoosh has become a stimulus that elicits a conditioned response. The problem is not that we buy Nike shoes, but that we’ve been led to do so by the same methods used to train Pavlov’s dogs. It’s ironic, of course, that this reflex is triggered by a stylized check mark—the standard reward for academic achievement and ultimate symbol for the rational, linguistically agile mind.

If sport is the religion of the modern age, then Nike has successfully become the official church. It is a church whose icon is a window between this world and the other, between your existing self (you overweight slob) and your Nike self (you god of fitness), where salvation lies in achieving the athletic Nietzschean ideal: no fear, no mercy, no second place. Like the Christian fish, the Swoosh is a true religious icon in that it both symbolizes the believer’s reality and actually participates in it. After all, you have to wear something to attain this special salvation, so why not something emblazoned with the Swoosh?

Questions

I. What does the “icthus” or Christian fish look like? What was its original purpose? Is it still used today? For what purpose? What does the Nike Swoosh look like? For what purpose is it used? How does Schuchardt connect two such different icons?

2. Schuchardt writes: “However it may read, the Swoosh transcends language, making it the perfect corporate icon for the postliterate global village (paragraph 7). What are the characteristics of the Swoosh that make it effective as a corporate logo? What does Schuchardt mean by the “postliterate” world? What is the “global village”?

What examples does Schuchardt provide to support the idea that some modern logos “appropriate other images and their meanings” (paragraph 10)? Can you think of other logos that do this beyond the examples he provides?

4. Think about the clothes that you and your friends wear. How many of them have logos on them? You may be surprised that many of them do. What do these logos communicate about you when you wear them in public? How do you feel about providing free advertising for these brands?

5. Focus on an icon or logo that you think is effective in getting a message across. Describe it and how it has been used. What does the consumer need to know about the icon or logo you’ve chosen in order to decide whether to buy or accept the product or idea it represents?

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 79

6, Read through the article again, this time underlining the various cultural referents—recognizable names and ideas that Schuchardt mentions. Identify the people and/or ideas at the source of those referents. How does Schuchardt use those referents to support the ideas in his article?

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape

THOMAS J. CAMPANELLA

Thomas J. Campanella received his Ph.D. from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Presently he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There he teaches courses in the Theory and Practice of Urban Design, Making the American Urban Lnndscape, and Site Planning and Sustainable Design, among others. His most recent books include The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster (2004) [co-authored with Lawrence J. Vale], Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm (2003), and Cities from the Sky: An Aerial Portrait of America (2001). The following is an excerpt from Dr. Campanella’s article “Eden by Wire, which originally appeared in The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet (2000), edited by Ken Goldberg and published by MIT Press.

Getting Started

Have you ever looked up and noticed all around you—in and on buildings, on streets, in stores, banks, and lobbies—cameras or webcameras? Campanella refers to these cameras as “a set of wired eyes, a digital extension of the human faculty of vision.’ But what are these cameras looking at? Are they necessary for our security or are they an intrusion into our lives? Who is watching us and what records are they keeping for what purposes? What do these webcameras mean for privacy and individual rights? How important are these cameras in an age of terrorism and fear? How do you feel about constantly being watched?

80 Thomas J. Campanella

Hello, and welcome to my webcam; it points out of my window here in Cambridge, and looks toward the centre of town. 1 Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the World. 2

he sun never sets on the cyberspatial empire; somewhere on the globe, at any hour, an electronic retina is receiving light, converting sunbeams into a stream of ones and zeros. Since the popularization of the Internet several years ago, hundreds of “webcameras” have gone live, a globe-spanning matrix of electro-optical devices serving images to the World Wide Web. The scenes they afford range from the sublime to the ridiculous—from toilets to the Statue of Liberty. Among the most compelling are those webcameras trained on urban and rural landscapes, and which enable the remote observation of distant outdoor scenes in real or close to real time. Webcameras indeed constitute something of a grassroots global telepresence project. William J. Mitchell has described the Internet as “a worldwide, time-zone-spanning optic nerve with electronic eyeballs at its endpoints “3 Webcameras are those eyeballs. If the Internet and World Wide Web represent the augmentation of collective memory, then webcameras are a set of wired eyes, a digital extension of the human faculty of vision.

Before the advent of webcameras, the synchronous observation of remote places (those farther than the reach of mechanooptical devices such as telescope or binoculars) was impossible for the average person—even the computer literate. To watch the sun set over Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong would have required physically being in Hong Kong, unless you happened to tune in to a live television broadcast from the harbor’s edge (an unlikely event, as sunsets generally do not make news). Now it is possible to log into one of several webcameras in that city and monitor the descendent sun even as the morning’s e-mail is read. We can, at the same time, watch the sun rise over Chicago, or stream its noonday rays over Paris, simply by opening additional browser

ICaption on Sam Critchley’s CamCam page, a webcamera site in Cambridge, UK (http://www.pipex.net/—samc/).

2Lyrics from the Grateful Dead anthem “Eyes of the World” by Robert Hunter.

3William J. Mitchell, Citv ofBits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), p. 31.

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 81

windows and logging into the appropriate sites. As little as a decade ago, this would have been the stuff of science fiction.

Of course, remote observation through a tiny desktop portal will never approach the full sensory richness of a sunset over the South China sea; telepresence is an ambitious term. Webcameras may not cure seasonal affective disorder; yet, there is something magical—even surreal—about watching the far-off sun bring day to a city on the far side of the planet. That we can set our eyes on a sun-tossed Australian street scene, from the depths of a New England winter night, is oddly reassuring—evidence that the home star is burning bright and heading toward our window.

THE ABNEGATION OF DISTANCE

Webcameras enable us to select from hundreds of destinations, and observe these at any hour of the day or night. The power to do so represents a quantum expansion of our personal space-time envelope; webcameras are a relatively simple technology, yet they are changing the way we think about time, space and geographic distance. As byte-sized portals into far-off worlds, webcameras demonstrate effectively how technology is dwindling the one-time vastness of the earth.

The story of technology is largely one of abnegating distance— 5 time expressed in terms of space. For most of human history, communication in real time was limited to the natural carrying range of the human voice, or the distance sound-producing instruments (drums, horns, bells, cannon, and the like) could be heard. Visual real-time communication over wide areas could be achieved using flags, smoke signals or, as Paul Revere found effective, a lantern in a belfry. However, such means were restricted by atmospheric conditions and intervening topography. Asynchronous messages—using the earlier innovations of language, writing, and printing—could conceivably be carried around the globe by the fifteenth century; but doing so took years. Transportation and communications remained primitive well into the nineteenth century, effectively limiting the geographic “footprint” of the average person to the proximate landscape of his birth. The space-time envelope of the typical peasant, for example, was restricted to the fields and byways of her village and surrounding countryside; that of the medieval townsman by the ramparts of the city in which he lived. Travel, even between settlements, was costly and dangerous; those who took to the roads were often criminals and outcasts from society. Indeed, the etymological source of the

82 [footnoteRef:1]Thomas J. Campanella [1: Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 213.]

word travel is the Old French travailler or “travail”—to toil and suffer hardship.

It was not until about 1850 that technology began to profoundly alter the spatial limits of the individual, collapsing distance and expanding the geography of daily life. The development of the locomotive and rail transport in this period had the greatest impact on notions of time and space. The railroad destroyed the tyranny of vastness and the old spatial order; it was a technology that, as Stephen Kern has put it, “ended the sanctuary of remoteness “4 Once-distant rural towns suddenly found themselves within reach of urban markets, if they were fortunate enough to be positioned along the new “metropolitan corridor” (towns bypassed, conversely, often found themselves newly remote, a particularly tough fate for places previously well-served by canal or stage). [footnoteRef:2] Rail transport also brought about a new temporal order: Countless local time zones made the scheduling of trains a logistical nightmare, and eventually led to the adoption of a uniform time standard in the United States.[footnoteRef:3] [2: See John R. Stilgoe, Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).] [3: Kem, pp. 12—14. November 18, 1883, the day the new national standard was became known as “the dav of two noons.”]

Subsequent advances in transportation technology—fast steamers, the Suez Canal and eventually the the great distances separating Europe, Asia, and America. Circumnavigation of the globe itself, a dream of ages, became reality not long after Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days was published in 1873. Inspired by the novel, American journalist Nellie Bly became, in 1890, the first to circle the earth in less than the vaunted eighty days.7 In the following two decades, this figure—and the scale of the globe itself—progressively shrank. A journey to China— once an impossibility for all but the most intrepid seafarers—had become, by 1936, a two-day flight by Pan American “China Clipper.” With the arrival of commercial jet aviation in the 1960s, traversing the earth was reduced to a days travel and a middle-class budget.

The abnegation of distance by electricity was somewhat less romantic, but no less profound. Innovations such as the telegraph, “wireless” and radio neutralized distance by making

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 83

communication possible irrespective of space and intervening geography. Immediate, synchronous, real-time communication could take place via “singing wires” or even thin air. The first electric telegraph line linked Baltimore and Washington in 1844, and two decades later the first transatlantic cable went into operation—the alpha segment of today’s global telecommunications network. Marconi discovered that telegraphic signals could be transmitted via electromagnetic waves, and in 1902 succeeded in sending the first transatlantic wireless message. The telephone, which spanned the United States by 1915, brought the power of distant synchronous communication into the kitchen. It made the electronic abnegation of space routine, and prompted predictions of home-based work and “action at a distance” as early as 1914.[footnoteRef:4] [4: “Action at a distance,” Scientific American, 77 (1914): 39.]

The more recent development of the networked digital computer has further neutralized distance and geography. The globespanning Internet, described as a “fundamentally and profoundly antispatial” technology, has in effect cast a great data net over the bumps, puddles, and irregularities of the physical world. The “cybet-space” of the Net operates more or less independently of physical place, terrain, geography and the built landscape. [footnoteRef:5] This was partly by design. The origins of the Internet may be traced to ARPANET, a Cold War initiative of the United States Department of Defense intended to create a multinodal knowledge-sharing infrastructure that could withstand nuclear attack; if any one part of the system was destroyed by an ICBM—for example New York or Washington—data would simply re-route itself around the blockage. [5: Mitchell, Citv ofBits, p. 8.]

If the Net and the “mirror world” of cyberspace is spatially ab- 10 stract, webcameras can be interpreted as mediating devices— points of contact between the virtual and the real, or spatial ‘anchors” in a placeless sea. [footnoteRef:6] Webcameras open digital windows onto real scenes within the far-flung geography of the Internet. The networked computer enables the exchange of textbased information with distal persons or machines; webcameras add to that a degree of real-time visual knowledge. As Garnet Hertz put it, webcameras constitute an attempt “to re-introduce a [6: The term is from David Gelernterk Mirror Worlds (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).]

84 Thomas J. Campanella

physical sense of actual sight into the disembodied digital self “11 In a rudimentary way, they make us telepresent, in places far removed from our bodies.

VARIETIES OF TELEPRESENCE

The term telepresence, like its cousin virtual reality, has been applied to a wide range of phenomena, and often inaccurately. It was coined in 1980 by Marvin Minsky, who applied it to teleoperation systems used in remote object-manipulation applications. As Jonathan Steuer has defined it, telepresence is “the experience of presence in an environment by means of a communication medium.” Put another way, it is the mediated perception of “a temporally or spatially distant real environment” via telecommunications. Telepresence is reciprocal, involving both the observer and the observed. In other words, the observer is telepresent in the remote environment, and the observed environment is telepresent in the physical space in which the observer is viewing the scene. [footnoteRef:7]The genealogy of visual synchronicity begins with the development of simple optical devices to augment sight, such as the telescope, binoculars, microscope, the camera lucida, and the camera obscura (asynchronous co-presence, on the other hand, can be traced back to scenic depictions by primitive cave painters, though its modern roots lie with the discovery of photography and the later development of the stereoscope. This latter technology provided an illusion of a third dimension, dramatically increasing the sense of immersion into the photographic scene; by the turn of the century, stereoscopic cards were immensely popular, and depicted such exotic landscapes as the Pyramids of Giza). [footnoteRef:8] [7: Jonathan Steuer, “Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence,” Joumal of Communications 42 (Autumn 1992): 75—8.] [8: Don Gifford, The Farther Shore: A Natural History’ ofPerception (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990), p. 31.]

Synchronous visual co-presence by means ofelectricity was a dream long before it became reality. One fanciful depiction, published in an 1879 edition of Punch, imagined an “Edison Telephonoscope” enabling family members in Ceylon to be telepresent in a Wilton Place villa. [footnoteRef:9] The first experiments in transmitting still [9: See Mitchell, City ofBits, pp. 32, 46.]

I Garnet Hertz, “Telepresence and Digital/PhvsicaI Body: Gaining a Perspective” (http://www.conceptlab.com/interface/theories/reality/index.html).

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 85

images via telegraph took place in the 1840s, with Alexander Bain’s proposal for a transmission system based on the electrochemical effects of light. Twenty years later, Abbe Caselli devised a similar system that used rotating cylinders wrapped with tin foil to transmit and receive photographs and handwritten notes. [footnoteRef:10] As early as the 1880s, photographs had been transmitted via radio signal in England; by 1935, Wirephotos enabled the rapid transmission of photographs around the globe. 16 [10: Brad Fortner, “Communication Using Media.” 16Gifford, The Farther Shore, p. 26.]

The electrical transmission of live images was first explored by the German physicist Paul Nipkow in the 1880s. Nipkow understood that the electrical conductivity of selenium—itself discovered in 1817—changed with exposure to light, and that all images were essentially composed of patterns of light and dark. Based on this principle, he devised an apparatus to scan (using a rotating, perforated “Nipkow disk”) a moving image into its component patterns of light and dark, and converted this into electrical signals using selenium cells. The signals would then illuminate a distant set of lamps, projecting the scanned image on a screen. Nipkow’s ideas, which remained theoretical, provided the basis for the early development of television, which by the 1920s was transmitting live images overseas.

Until the advent of the Net, television remained the closest 15 thing to telepresence most people would ever experience. Even with the development of videoconferencing technology in the last decade, access to the hardware and software required to experience even basic telepresence was limited to a privileged few. Proprietary’ videoconferencing systems were costly and required specialized installation and service. The arrival of the World Wide Web, by providing inexpensive and ready access to a global computer network, made telepresence a reality for anyone with a modem, a PC, and a video camera. The World Wide Web, enabling webcameras as well as simple desktop videoconferencing applications such as CUSeeMe, brought telepresence to the grassroots.

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Admittedly, webcamera technology as it exists today affords only the most basic variety of telepresence. The simple observation of distal scenes, even in real time, hardly satisfies most definitions of telepresence. David Zeltzer has argued that a sense of “being in and of the world”—real or virtual—requires no less than a ‘”bath’ of sensation,” and this can be achieved only when we are receiving a high-bandwidth, multisensory stream of information 86 Thomas J. Campanella

about the remote world—something hardly provided webcamera sites. 17 According to Held and Durlach, “high ence” requires a transparent display system (one with tions), high resolution image and wide field of view, a of feedback channels (visual as well as aural and tactile tion, and even environmental data such as moisture level temperature), and a consistency of information between Moreover, the system should afford the user dexterity in lating or moving about the remote environment, with high tion, between the user’s movements and the actions of slave robot “18 Sheridan similarly proposed three physical attributes” to determine telepresence: extent of formation received from the remote environment; control tion of sensors to that environment (the ability of the modify his viewpoint); and the ability to modify the physical environment. 19

With sluggish images appearing in a tiny box on a webcameras hardly constitute full sensory immersion in world, let alone mobility and engagement in that world. is true that some of the more sophisticated webcamera a modicum of telerobotic interactivity, these tend to and difficult to use—particularly when a number of fighting for the controls.20 Webcameras afford what scribed as “low telepresence” or “popular telepresence.” limitations are at least partially compensated by the vast the webcam network, which itself can be seen as mote-world mobility simply by providing such a wide ographic destinations.

17David Zeltzer, “Autonomy, Interaction, and Presence,” Presence, ISRichard M. Held and Nathaniel I. Durlach, ‘Telepresence,” Presence, 19Thomas B. Sheridan, “Musings on Telepresence and Virtual ence, 1: 120-22.

20For a collection of examples see http://mitpress.mit.edu/telepistemology.

Some of the better known telerobotic webcamera sites include the

Server (http://www.flab.mag.keio.ac.jp/fuji/); the Virtual Artists

VA RoboCam in Adelaide, Australia (http://robocam.va.com.au}); the Robotics Webcam at Carleton University (http://webcam.engsoc.carleton.ca/); the EyeBot Project (http://www.dma.nl/eyebot./); the Interactive Model (http://rr-vs.informatik.uni-ulm.de/rr/); and the Light on the (http://light.softopia.pref.gifu.jp/), which enables the user to turn panel of lights in real time.

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 87

COFFEE POT TO DEEP SPACE

The accessibility of the Net and the simplicity of webcamera technology produced, in less than a decade, a network of independent cameras spanning the globe. As networking technology evolved, it was discovered that a sensory device affixed to a server could distribute real-time visual information to a large number of people. In 1991 a pair of Cambridge University computer scientists, Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetzky, attached a recycled video camera to an old computer and video frame-grabber, •and aimed it at a coffee pot outside a computer lab known as the Trojan Room. They wrote a simple client-server program to capture images from the camera every few minutes and distribute them on a local network, thus enabling people in remote parts of the building to check if there was coffee available before making the long trek downstairs.[footnoteRef:11] Later served over the Internet (and still in operation) the Trojan Room Coffee Cam became the Internet’s first webcamera. [11: Quentin Stafford-Fraser, “The Trojan Room Coffee Pot: A (non-technical) Biography.” (http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/qsfjcoffee.html).]

Inspired by Coffee Cam, Steve Mann—at the time a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab—devised a wireless head-mounted webcamera unit in the early 1990s that fed a chain of images via radio to a fixed base station and server. His “experiment in connectivity” enabled anyone logged into his website to simultaneously share his field of vision, or trace his movements in space through the day by examining continuously archived images. Mann’s unit evolved from early experiments by Ivan Sutherland, in which half-silvered mirrors in a head-mounted display enabled the wearer to see a virtual environment imposed upon actual scenes. The WearCam enabled Mann to in effect become a webcamera, blurring the line between reality and virtuality, presence and telepresence.[footnoteRef:12] [12: Steve Mann, “Wearable Computing: A First Step Toward Personal Imaging, Computer, 30: 2 (February 1997).]

Webcamera technology is simple enough to allow even indi- 20 viduals with minimal computer experience to set one up, and many have done so, displaying prosaic views of driveways, backyards, and streets. A simple “golfball” camera such as the ubiquitous Connectix Quickcam can be used to supply images to a frame-grabber at a predetermined interval or as requested by a

88 Thomas J. Campanella

client. Assigned a unique IP (Internet protocol) address, the captured frame is then served over the World Wide Web and made available to one or more websites. Most webcameras capture and send a single frame at a time, while more sophisticated sites ‘push” a continuous stream of images to the client, thus providing a moving picture. Most live-streaming webcamera feeds are sluggish and temperamental, but they offer a compelling near-live glimpse into a remote place.

By 1995, dozens of webcameras were feeding pixels to armchair voyeurs around the world. Following the geography of the Net itself, the early webcameras were located mainly in the United States, Europe, and Japan. More recently, such devices have appeared in places farther off the digital mainline—including Pakistan, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Croatia, Colombia, South Africa, and the Czech Republic. The geography of webcameras now extends to space itself. A number of telerobotic webcamera-equipped telescopes are in operation in the United States and Europe. These include relatively simple units such as one developed by the Remote Access Astronomy Project (RAAP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (allowing high school students to remotely observe the heavens for science projects), to more sophisticated devices such as the Bradford Robotic Telescope in the United Kingdom, and the powerful 3.5-meter Apache Point telescope in New Mexico—operated via the Internet by researchers at the University of Chicago and elsewhere. An interface program called Remark affords seamless control of the Apache Point instrument, replicating a sense of “being at the telescope” (and creating in effect two “piggybacked” sets of telepresent space—that of the telescope itself and that of the celestial world glimpsed by its lens and the attached camera).[footnoteRef:13] [13: See UC Santa Barbara Remote Access Astronomv Project website (http://www.deepspace.uc-sb.edu/rot.htm); Bruce Gillespie, Robert Loewenstein and Don York, “Remote Observing at Apache Point,” 1995 (http:// www.apo.nmsu.edu/NMOpaper/paper.html).]

Near-real-time satellite images of the earth are available over the Net, generated by the geostationary GOES-8 and GOES-IO satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [footnoteRef:14] Plans for an even more sophisticated earthobserving satellite were unveiled by [the then] vice president Al Gore in the spring of 1998. The satellite, to bear the name “Triana” in honor of Columbus’s navigator, would provide “the ultimate [14: See Geostationary Satellite Browser Server (http://www.goes.noaa.gov).]

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 89

macro world view,” feeding high-resolution images to three earth stations, where they would be compiled into a full-disk portrait of the home planet and made continuously available to viewers on the Net. Pointing out that the last full-round images of the earth came two decades ago during the Apollo mission, Gore urged support and Congressional approval for the orbiting webcamera, noting that the $50 million project would both afford “a clearer view of our own world” and encourage “new levels of understanding” of the planet and its “natural and cultural systems.”25

One of the most spectacular moments in webcamera-enabled telepresence took place in July of 1997, during the Mars Pathfinder mission. A remarkable stream of images, transmitted from the spacecraft itself and continually updated to the Mars Pathfinder website, stunned the Net world. Though not real-time in the strictest sense, the images of the Red Planet and its rock-strewn surface were fresh and clear enough to afford a convincing spatial sense of another world. More than 45 million viewers logged into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory sites during the first week of the operation—an Internet record—and over 80 million hits a day were recorded in the first week of the operations. One writer described the Pathfinder landing as a “defining moment for the Net,” and compared it to similarly definitive moments in the evolution of other media—the outbreak of the Civil War and newspaper, Pearl Harbor and radio; the Kennedy assassination and television. Had these images not been so readily available on the Internet, it is likely that the Pathfinder landing would have remained an abstraction; television coverage of the event was typically brief and superficial 26

“I’LL BE WATCHING YOU”

Webcameras do not always generate such enthusiasm. The specter of surveillance and the violation of privacy are real and vexing issues, and the possibility of Orwellian over-exposure has made many people anxious and fearful of webcameras. Ubiquitous

25Douglas E. Heimburger, “Talking at Innovation Summit, Gore Calls for an Earth-viewing Satellite,” The Tech (17 March 1998). Gorek proposal was summarily dismissed by some as an exercise in “planetary navel-gazing” and a waste of taxpayer money. See Gabriel Schoenfeld, “Machines with a High Calling,” Wall Street Joumal, 6 July 1998, and Joe Sharkey, “Step Right Up and See Grass Grow and Paint Dry,” New York limes, 22 March 1998.

26See NASA press release 24 June 1997; Amy Harmon, “Mars Pathfinder Landing was Defining Moment for Net,” New York Times, 14 July 1997.

90 Thomas J. Campanella

The Truman birth, the cameras, ingeand bathvoyeurs in technologismall 8Aith tiny

surveillance was the subject of the popular 1998 film Show, in which the feckless hero (Jim Carrey) is, since unwitting star in his own quotidian drama. Tiny niously concealed in dashboard radios, lawnmowers, room mirrors, relay a perpetual stream of images to televisionland unbeknownst to him. Unfortunately, the cal aspects of the film are well within reach. Remarkably cameras are available from security supply houses, along transmitters and dummy appliances in which to conceal them (one company gleefully advertises a wall clock, concealing a tiny video camera, as an ideal solution for keeping an eye on employees).

Then again, surveillance is nothing new. Video cameras are a ubiquitous part of the urban landscape, so much so that we scarcely notice them; we are watched constantly, and have been for years. Supermarkets, convenience stores, elevators, automated teller machines, and office lobbies are all monitored via camera by persons unseen.[footnoteRef:15] Public spaces such as tunnels and bridges, toll booths, college campuses, streets and public squares are, increasingly, also being watched. In the United Kingdom, home of Bentham’s Panopticon, dozens of town centers are patrolled by video cameras, and Liverpool police recently began using a system of 20 cameras to produce full color, highly magnified nocturnal images.28 [15: See Phil Patton, “Caught,” WIRED 3.01, and John Whalen, “You’re Not Paranoid: They Really Are Watching You,” WIRED 3.03. 28″You Don’t Have to Smile,” Newsweek, (17 July 1995), 52.]

Surveillance has also moved beyond the visual. In 1996 Redlands, California, installed an “Urban Gunshot Location System,” consisting of a matrix of sound sensors at intersections in the city enabling police to instantaneously detect and locate gunfire [footnoteRef:16] Of course, such applications are intended to serve the interest of public health and safety; but surveillance is by nature a clandestine act, and the risks of abuse, of invasions of personal and group privacy, are very real. Astonishing abuses have already been committed. Several years ago a minuscule hidden camera was discovered in a locker room of Boston’s Sheraton Hotel, recording employees in various states of undress (the hotel claimed it suspected employee drug use); in California a J.C. [16: 1t should be noted that local community activists have praised the system, which appears to have had a positive impact. See “Gunfire Detection Sensor Tested,” Trenton limes, 7 January 1996.]

Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent Landscape 91

Penney clerk filed suit when she learned that a guard had been zooming a ceiling-mounted security camera on her breasts. [footnoteRef:17] [17: “You Don’t Have to Smile,” Newsweek (17 July 1995).]

The growing popularity of webcameras has raised the prospect of similar mischief. At first it would seem like anger misplaced— protest should be aimed at the “glass ceiling domes of wine-dark opacity” of institutional surveillance, rather than the innocuous home-rigged webcamera aimed out a kitchen window. [footnoteRef:18] Steve Mann has argued, institutions and the government have for years been “shooting” cameras at us; what webcameras enable is a chance to “shoot back” at Big Brother. [footnoteRef:19] Then again, when one considers the enormous potential audience at the receiving end of a webcamera, the seemingly innocent device on the window ledge becomes a threat indeed—Little Brother is also watching, and he is hitched to a global network, indeed, persons in webcamera view are theoretically exposed to millions of users on the Net, not just a half-awake night guard at a security desk. Even if no one is watching—and most of the time no one is—the mere presence of a webcamera compromises personal space. In a feedback thread on the Trinity Square Street-Cam site in Colchester, United Kingdom, one woman wrote: “Big brother is watching us and we don’t like it! We have no choice but to be in view going to work. . . . We are ANNOYED!” [18: Patton, “Caught,” WIRED 3.01.] [19: See Steve Mann, “Privacy Issues of Wearable Cameras Versus Surveillance Cameras,” 1995 (http://www.wearcam.org/netcam_privacy_issues.html).]

Questions

is “telepresence” (paragraph 11) according to Campanella? What other examples can you think of that he does not mention in the article? What do you think is so compelling about this kind of “seeing at a distance” and in what ways do you think it can be a positive factor in the uncertain world in which we live?

2. In what ways are webcameras and the cameras on cell phones, PDAs, and laptops “changing the way we think about time, space, and geographic distance” (paragraph 4)?

3. In paragraph 22, Campanella mentions Al Core’s desire to create “a full-disk portrait of the home planet.” What is Google Earth? What does this view of the earth give us as members of a global society? How have you seen these images used? How do you think a tool like this changes our understanding of the world?

92 Anne Marie Seward Barry

Why might webcameras generate concern? How might individual privacy be violated by the use of such cameras? Is our sense of security worth the possibility of violating an individual’s rights?

5. Most people do not look carefully at footnotes; you may have noticed that there are quite a few connected with this article. Many of them suggest interesting websites to investigate that support Campanella’s thesis or idea. The Web changes constantly so some of these sites may no longer be active, but check out a few of them and write a short essay about how they relate to his thesis.

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