Monday, August 5, 2013

Google Glass and Mobile First-Person Journalism

There has been a lot of discussion around the usefulness and appropriateness of Google Glass. While many of the suggested uses focus on its Augmented Reality attributes and new ways of seeing the world, The Guardian recently reported on a more grounded and noteworthy use - that of "mobile first-person" journalism.

Tim Pool, is taking advantage the particular qualities of our smart devices for "mobile first-person journalism". Smartphones, live streaming apps, 3G, and affordable drones, offer an opportunity for the journalism endeavors of both professional journalists and ordinary citizens to stream events captured on their phones and other devices, that give them access to images and events that may otherwise be beyond the reach of traditional journalism. For example, people actually living through political instability, or involved in the protests can film events as they're happening and stream or post them without the censorship sometimes experienced by the media. For example, Pool himself, turned a commercially available remote controlled drone into "Occucopter" which flew over Occupy protests and streamed live footage via smartphone to the world. This was particularly useful when police were trying to keep journalists away during the police removal of protesters from Zuccotti Park during Occupy.

More recently however, Pool has been using Google Glass to cover protests in Istanbul. As a "Glass Explorer", Pool has had the opportunity to trial Glass and has found it is particularly useful for live streaming protests:

"When there's a wall of police firing plastic bullets at you, and you're running through a wall of tear-gas, having your hands free to cover your face, while saying 'OK Glass, record a video', makes that recording process a lot… easier," says Pool. 
"As soon as I saw Google Glass, I realised that it would allow me to do what I always do with this first-person live recording, but my hands would be free... I don't want to stand filming in front of the water cannon and guys with Molotovs. I want to show you what it's like to be there as best I can, even if that ends with me running full-speed into a cafe and rubbing lemons all over my face after being tear-gassed."
"There's no one standing in front of you: you're looking through a window at this event. And with social media, people can chat with me while I'm broadcasting, and chat to one another, which is just as powerful."

Pool has been working for Vice covering the protests in Istanbul, Cairo and Brazil during 2013 but has been doing this style of journalism since Occupy Wall Street in 2011.  Rather than seeing it replacing traditional journalism, he sees it as complementary, and his coverage has also been broadcast by major media networks. However data connection is a major issue with mobile journalism particularly when livestreaming. To accommodate this Pool takes multiple SIM cards enabling him to switch networks if they drop out. But even without livestream video, mobile-first journalism can provide useful commentary. He notes a recent example where a teenage girl's tweeting of a shooting in shopping mall in Wisconsin, became the primary source of information for journalists.

But Glass is proving particularly apt for "mobile first-person journalism" or "citizen journalism". A clip was recently posted on YouTube of "The First Fight and Arrest Caught on Glass", and while the majority of what is on film is a crowd of people, and a pretty uneventful arrest, the clip demonstrates the potentials - both good and privacy encroaching - that Glass can offer.

On the upside, it can encourage "citizen journalism", and  in cases as the fight above you can easily see its uses as evidence or if there had been police misconduct. It could also capture less serious and more entertaining events. In this sense it is not much different from the filming capabilities of a mobile phone, except that it is less obvious and hands-free which makes it easier to use. On the downside are the obvious privacy and surveillance concerns. As Stop the Cyborgs note, 

Notice the long tracking shots. Also notice that no one notices. Now imagine 10% of the population doing this all the time, walking in and out of buildings and homes. Imagine all this data being time stamped and geotagged, flowing to a large database in the cloud. A omniscient eye; a real time streetview extending into homes and businesses; society as a glass prism.

The ability for Glass to take surveillance to an even more creepy level is obvious. But Stop the Cyborg's also raise the question in relation to "citizen journalism", whether Glass will actually transform what events we see:

While undoubtedly it is true that more news footage will be captured by amateurs, this does not mean that citizens will become investigative journalists exposing systematic issues. Rather citizens will become crowd sourced paparazzi and informers. They will of course expose celebs. They will catch the occasional crime or even Rodney King style police abuse not just humorous incidents. However this will still be embedded within the dominant dispositif. They will contribute images to be judged by the existing legal, economic and media apparatus rather than challenging it. This is not the activist journalism of Indymedia, secret revelations of ‘Spies For Peace‘ and Wikileaks, or the muck raking investigation of Private Eye but rather the crowd sourced submission of America’s Funniest Home Videos or World’s Dumbest criminals. Video is typically something which reveals human actions rather than systematic organizational issues. The normalizing gaze is extended and reproduced not fundamentally challenged by placing cameras on people’s heads.

Thus while Glass may give us tools to see the world in a new way, what we choose to see is not always determined by the technology, but by us. 

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