Monthly Archives: May 2011

Inside the Hugga-Box

We were given a practical assignment in class to create a 3 minute, in-camera edit, potentially viral video about surveillance.  My group was cracked out on too little sleep, which is perfect for creating off-the-wall ideas.  We decided to create the Surveillance Hugga-Box:

For all your surveilling needs

There was a small hole cut in the front of the box, just big enough to house a camera lens.  A group member got inside the box with a video camera and walked around the streets surveying random people. Another group member shot footage of the Hugga-Box in action.

I got into (or more correctly, under) the box.  It was AWESOME. You know when you’re a kid and you cover your eyes, thinking that the rest of the world can’t see you?  It was like that, only cooler because you got to spy on people at the same time.  But obviously spy on people, because, obviously, they can see the box.  I found myself “targeting” strangers with my camera, sneaking up on them little by little to see when they would acknowledge me and how they would react. I got more than a couple dirty looks, but some people laughed and enjoyed the weirdness.  The angry people were the best though.  The box gave me this peculiar license to piss people off- because, really, what were they going to do to me? I was a box, and essentially all I did was look at them…well, and record them, but is there a difference really?  When we look at people with our eyes don’t we “record” them in a sense?

I liken the Surveillance Hugga-Box to “blue light” cameras in Chicago, which is where I’m from originally. They are big boxes with a bright, blue light placed high up on a street lamp.  There are a large amount of these cameras in high crime (re: African-American and Hispanic) areas of the city.

A beautiful new street decoration, provided by the CPD

There are various opinions on these “Police Observation Devices” (PODs- the official police term). Recently data has been released to show no significant impact in the decrease of crime. Some locals want more boxes, some say it’s a waste of tax-payer dollars, and that PODs are no replacement for the physical presence of police. The ACLU of Illinois issued a report demanding that a moratorium be placed upon the PODs pending further investigation into their effectiveness.

It’s interesting to me that these PODs have been around since 2003, and have increased in number.  They slowly crept from 80 PODs to over 1,000 around the city.  People have always questioned the invasion of privacy, but, for the most part, nothing has been done to take them down.  We seem comfortable with them, they are not too intrusive.

So why was our Hugga-Box met with more visible reaction than these PODs? I think one of the main differences is the addition of movement.  Police say PODs are effective because of their mere presence suggests someone is watching you; but simultaneously, their presence can be ignored, so people will still commit crimes, or not be too outraged by the evolving Orwellian environment.  The Hugga-Box was transparent in its purpose: I followed people around, they could see me recording them, they could interact with me (I got shoved a couple times).  But interestingly, even the people who were annoyed didn’t stop me from surveying them. No one asked me what I was doing, even though there was unmistakably a person in the box.  The Hugga-Box had presence and movement, which made its presence more “real” or perhaps even threatening to people.

Take a gander and see what you think! Are you always aware of who is watching you? Why?

Can I get a minute (OMG this post is amazing!!!!) to myself?

Lisa Nesselson is a long time film critic currently writing for Screen International.  In this clip, she comments on how the internet has changed festivals like Cannes, and film-watching in general:

“The biggest change I think I’ve seen is that we used to have the time to luxuriate in thinking about what we just saw.  There was no Twitter, there was no internet…now people are telegraphing what they think of a movie 10 minutes into it…”

I’ve never been bothered by spoilers, but I am intrigued by the evolution of knowledge sharing, as demonstrated through the example of movie watching.  As a teen, I went through multiple steps to gather movie information: the TV trailer (which didn’t give everything away), reviews in a (paper) newspaper,  word of mouth, either at school or on the telephone (Oh my god (not OMG)! Titanic is the best movie ever!), calling the movie theater’s phone line for movie times (does that even exist anymore?), and finally, determining which theater would let in under-18s without an ID.

While Nesselson bemoans the loss of time for thoughtful indulgence of a subject before engaging in dialogue, did we really have time to think back then? Unless we went to the movie alone, we naturally discussed what we just saw.  We shared feelings, thoughts, observations, complaints over a milkshake and pancakes at Denny’s.  However, I suppose Nesselson’s complaint is that people can’t even get through a movie without both hearing and passing critique.  And even if you were with that annoying person who talked through movies (whoops) well…you were annoyed at them for doing so because their commentary interrupted your experience.

With each advancement, we become more aware of the power behind our technologically driven “collective knowledge”, and realize a large majority of the power lies in instant, accessible sharing.  But how much sharing is too much? We could say, “Just turn off the TV”, but at this point, can we really avoid intrusive knowledge and opinion distribution without sequestering ourselves in a the middle of…uh…where exactly?

While I’m an advocate of collective knowledge sharing, I also believe we’re losing something innately human in the midst of digital engulfment.  Yes, Twitter is just another form of communication, and yes, we would discuss movies on Facebook the same way we would in person…but when we use these avenues of communication, the space for personal and private thinking becomes smaller and smaller.  We automatically share and invite feedback, without a time for self-reflection first.  Perhaps we are losing ways to listen to ourselves, and gaining ways of garnering approval (liking/comments/re-tweeting) or attention through hasty debate, of which I, myself, am guilty.  Instant access to sharing means instant access to connection; but without the substance gathered from private reflection, the collective knowledge we share becomes superficial.

The 7th page of Google

Does anyone ever go to the 7th page of Google? Can you tell me what it’s like?  I imagine it as a vast wasteland of mid-to-low relevancy strength combinations of search words.

Where all your socks and stupid search phrases go to die

I just googled “Wasteland” and went to the 7th page.  Not too wasteland-ish.

My brain is a wasteland.  Time for bed.

Technologically Inefficient

I had one of those days in technology land.

You know. Where NOTHING WORKS. And you want to throw your beautiful, very expensive MacBook Pro out the window (I didn’t mean it darling, I swear. I was just angry, I would never hurt you).

As I squatted underneath the desk in the quiet area of the library, struggling to get my laptop’s magnetic power source unplugged from the socket, I thought, “I am wasting valuable moments that could potentially be filled with productive work!”

I wasn’t really going to do any productive work after I fixed my technological problems.  I was going to stalk people on Facebook.  Write twitter updates.  Save drafts of emails I should have sent to friends long ago (isn’t that why there’s Facebook?).  I was going to use the addictive attributes of technology to distract me from one of its main purposes: increased productivity.

And as I angrily walked downstairs for the 4th time to the IT department, which smelled not-so-deliciously like fish, I thought, “Why am I so utterly dependent on technology for my work? How did I get this way? I feel so dirty.”

Technology wormed its way into my life.  From Atari to the Commodore 64, games like Cave of the Word Wizard and Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? (bonus point if you know the theme song!), from the first time I sent an email and heard a modem ping, technology has lulled me into its gleaming, gaping maw.  Now I live inside the belly of the whale, not quite knowing the final destination, if Geppetto will save me, or if we will find a symbiotic relationship and live in harmony forever.

For now, my relationship to technology reminds me of this adorable kitten:

And just because I mentioned it:

the disappearance of bees

The other day I came across this article:


Ignoring for the moment that the information came via the Daily Mail, there has been backlash/argument about the angle and meaning of the research, an example found here in the New York Times.   Here is the actual report from the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany so you can read and assess for yourself.

I felt the content provoked some very important questions about the human relationship to technology.  Would people give up a technology and dependence on a technology to save the planet (i.e. themselves)?  If the evidence became irrefutable, would governments call upon their people to throw away and/or modify their cell phones?  Would people revolt and say the government was trying to control their right of free choice? Would saving the bees become a number one issue on legislative agendas above things like national security? Would it become an interest of worldwide security?

I’m curious to know if there are examples of technology being dismantled or stopped because of evident health risks and environment concerns. Considering the rising human population, the link between our expanding life spans and expanding technology and the considerable challenges of current and impending food shortages, I think we need to communally and individually acknowledge that our insignificant cell phones could be posing a major problem. And this is not to ignore our other “contributions” to their potential demise: chemical pesticides, pollution, climate change, and mass agriculture to name a few.

The possibility of bee extinction is clearly of human making. It points to our incessant drive to consume, our parasitic nature concerning Nature, and our genuine disregard for the well being of others fueled by desires that are inherently individualistic and selfish. What will it take for us to evolve beyond consumption? Perhaps the mass extinction of bees will leave us with little to nothing to consume except our guilt about our passivity…or simply more genetically modified foods.