Gadgets '06

XIII.4 July + August 2006
Page: 28
Digital Citation

Mobile video recording in context

Erika Reponen, Pertti Huuskonen, Kristijan Mihalic

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"CAMERAS NOT ALLOWED," warns a sign at the door of a Helsinki venue, where we are queuing up for a rock concert. That is a reasonable order, but one that is almost impossible to control. While many of us carry digital cameras, even more people carry mobile phones with integrated cameras. Such phonecams usually double as video cameras, too. Asking thousands of concertgoers to leave their phones at home is unthinkable today, so the concert will inevitably be recorded—albeit with the (currently) low quality that prevents major exploitation of the material.

While commercial events are likely to be affected by video recording, our everyday lives are also getting recorded. Phonecams are becoming ubiquitous; multimedia messages can be sent anywhere in a matter of seconds. New 3G networks are finally making video calls a reality. Video blogs abound; Google offers a search mechanism for interesting videos; Bittorrent users download TV episodes by the dozen. Video in general has become a practical data type with networked personal computers and even with mobile devices.

But What's the News? Cameras (and video cameras) have always been more or less mobile. What's new here? Is there something fundamentally different with camera phones that warrants new discussion on a familiar topic? The answer, briefly put, is yes—constant use, convenience, and communication do make a difference.

Cameras of yesteryear were often used for festive situations, such as weddings, parties, holidays. Most people would not carry cameras on a continuous basis, so the devices would usually be elsewhere when something interesting happened. In contrast, mobile phones are much of the time quite close to their users. When anything unexpected comes up, the integrated camera can be activated in a matter of seconds. A camera phone is always on, always with. We believe this fundamentally changes the way people approach the recording of images and video. It also develops new patterns of use. Moreover, larger numbers of people are now potential video publishers.

With film cameras, developing the pictures can take days or weeks. Publishing (or just managing, showing, labeling) has to wait until the physical copies are available. Even with most digital cameras, the images need to be transferred to computers for sending to other people. Tape-based video can be viewed in the recorders soon after the event, but sending the physical video involves waiting for copies to be made. Sending digital video, again, usually involves computers.

With phonecams, images and video can be sent within minutes (or seconds) of capture. According to a study by Sarvas et al., 89 percent of digital photos are shared at least once and most of the sharing is done within three days of being taken [1]. This makes a difference in the ways people use cameras. Publishing, as well, can now happen anywhere, anytime.

Camera phones can form an end-to-end video transmission chain with just one kind of device. Video can be captured, edited, sent, and received with phones. This gives added convenience that can, for some applications, override the limitations of mobile use. While video editing is certainly more comfortable in the luxury of the wide-screen PC environments, on the road it can be sufficient for making small modifications (such as trimming or adding captions) to short video clips. The added convenience of mobility compensates for the decrease in quality and usability.

Mobile video recording can enable new genres of visual media. One such genre could be a mobile reality-TV show, in which each participant carries a camera. Everyone is both a subject and an object of recording. In addition, the audience members can contribute to the recording. While such a format could initially be quite chaotic, it would however involve people more directly, as more active actors. We like to think of it as WikiVideo (in reference to WikiPedia, which collects substantial value from individual amateur contributions).

Another relatively new form of media, perhaps closer to today, includes various Web sites where people post images of desirable items, such as sports cars. Visitors on the site can then rate the "coolness" of the image. With mobile video recording, more novel rating sites are to be expected. Again, while the quality of the contributions can be quite low, the homemade impression can add to the interest, as can the fact that these so-called first-person-view contributions are primarily made by ordinary people, not TV stars.

Previous Work. While phonecams can change the way we perceive video recording, much of the existing work in media science still applies. For instance, Huhtamo [2] notes that already in the 19th century there were concerns about photography. People felt that their privacy could be threatened by the "omnipresent" camera. Anyone was a potential target. A camera had a dehumanizing effect on the person using it. The fears were only dampened as photography became more commonplace and spread from professionals to the public.

Today our society is deeply infiltrated with media that shapes our minds in numerous ways. It is quite unthinkable to be an active part of the Western world without being exposed to a flood of media. Baudrillard goes so far as to claim that people are so used to living in the TV reality that they always act as if they are being photographed [3]. Ylä-Kotola further states that humans are more aware of themselves as objects of recording rather than as conscious beings [4]. While we do not fully share their views, it does seem that people are developing mental mechanisms for coping with omnipresent video recording.

One fundamental change in our society is our relationship with time. As time shifting, podcasts, 24/7 news channels, and ubiquitous Web access proliferate, we are less and less dependent on synchronous media delivery. We can browse the news when we want; we can pause the film while we make a quick visit to the fridge. Anything can be scheduled on the basis of individual convenience.

Castells has noted that communication technologies annihilate and compress time [5]. They are eliminating the natural succession and sequencing that was so far inherent to our media. In the era of timeless time, we can then routinely apply recording to any events of our lives. Capture life; live it later. The ever-increasing fragmentation of our activities (both professional and private) further emphasizes the need to control time, fitting media activities into gaps left by other tasks.

Context as Container. Mobile devices are moving with their users, encountering various contexts. To achieve easier interaction, the devices should have some understanding of the context. Typical aspects of mobile context include location, ambient conditions, user activities, social context, informational context, and other factors. We model the situations where mobile video is recorded and consumed as different contexts. We recognize two main levels: primary and secondary context.

The primary context (Figure 1) comprises the immediate surroundings of a video recording: people, place, objects—the whole situation. The people present can observe the event and interact with each other naturally, without using any electronic devices.

The secondary context arises when the event is published through a mediating device (e.g., a camera phone) and perceived. People observing the event through this mediator are, by our definition, not part of the primary context. However, they can still interact with it. The device defines the boundary between primary and secondary context and makes secondary context possible.

The various recording situations differ in the size and kind of these two contexts. The use of the material may be personal (a video call) or public (news). It can be immediate (sports TV) or time-delayed (video diary). The subjects may be aware of the existence of the secondary context (films) or unaware of it (surveillance cameras).

In general, the subjects' awareness of the secondary context affects their behavior in the primary context. This is evident, for instance, in the Big Brother reality-TV format, in which participants in a closed space first act uneasy with the knowledge of millions of eyes observing them. However, they gradually become less and less aware of the cameras and start acting more and more naturally. When video recording becomes commonplace, without major new threats or inconveniences, people seem to be quite relaxed about being filmed. For instance, city dwellers can be aware of surveillance cameras in their town or grocery store, but they simply ignore them in their daily life.

It must be the transition period from novelty to commodity when the greatest changes in behavior take place. In the case of camera phones, we have already entered this phase. There is some evidence of the changes that are taking place. For example, some nightclubs have banned phonecams. For another example, in Japan and Korea it is mandatory by law to make capturing obvious with a shutter sound in digital cameras. There are not yet such laws for video recording, though.

Conclusion. The individual perception of video recording floats in the dichotomy between privacy threat and the social beneficence of omnipresent cameras. It is unquestioned that the always-on and always-with characteristics of phonecams will change the way we perceive video recording. The easiness of capturing and the immediate, ad hoc way of sharing and publishing the content from primary to secondary context is the key factor. More cameras on the move and more people shooting increase the potential threat of privacy loss, but at the same time enable richer communication in mobile contexts.

Emerging usage patterns of phonecam video recordings call for an agenda, which acknowledges social and technological interdependence. Social situations have a strong impact on the usage of communication technologies [6], while at the same time the technologies shape the social situation of use. The challenge of future phonecams is the support for the easy transaction of content between primary and secondary context, while allowing full control over privacy and security parameters by the user and his social surroundings.

The understanding of technology-usage contexts is crucial for the design and development of socially acceptable technologies of the future. Will people accept mobile video recordings? Or will the venue signs still say "CAMERAS NOT ALLOWED"?

back to top  References

1. Sarvas, R., Oulasvirta, A. and Jacucci, G. Building Social Discourse Around Mobile Photos—A System Perspective. Proc. Mobile HCI 05, ACM Press (2005), 31-38.

2. Huhtamo, E. Pockets of Plenty: An Archaeology of Mobile Media. Proc. ISEA 2004.

3. Baudrillard, J. Simulacres et Simulation.. Galilée.(1981), 48-56.

4. Ylä-Kotola, M. Evoluutio vai nollapiste? Mediatieteen bioparadigma ja Hermann Friedmann. In Hintikka, K.A. and Kuivakari, S. (Eds.), Mediaevoluutioita (1997), 93-94.

5. Castells, M. An introduction to the information age. In: Mackay, H. and O'Sullivan, T. (Eds.). The media reader: continuity and transformation. London, Sage (1999), 398-410.

6. Mihalic, K. and Tscheligi, M. (2006). Interactional Context for Mobile Applications. In: Proceeding of the 20th International Symposium on Human Factors in Telecommunication HFT 2006, March 20-23 2006, Sophia Antipolis, France.

back to top  Authors

Erika Reponen
Nokia Research Center

Pertti Huuskonen
Nokia Research Center

Kristijan Mihalic
ICT&S, University of Salzburg

About the Authors

Pertti Huuskonen is a principal scientist with Nokia Research Center, Tampere, Finland. His research interests include context awareness, ubiquitous computing, and mobile interaction. He has been applying artificial intelligence in his previous positions at VTT and C.E.R.N. on such diverse fields as industrial control, high-energy physics and telecommunication. He holds a doctorate in computer science from University of Oulu, Finland. He lives on cheese.

Erika Reponen is a graphic designer and mobile HCI researcher, working for Nokia since 1997. Her current work in Nokia Research Center concentrates on phenomena around mobile multimedia communication. She is preparing a doctoral thesis on mobile first-person reality television. She has designed visual UIs for several successful commercial products, most notably the Nokia 9210 Communicator. Erika received a Master of Arts in audiovisual media culture at University of Lapland in 2003.

Kris Mihalic is a PhD student with the ICT&S Center at the University of Salzburg. Kris is finishing his PhD on representing context on mobile devices. He holds a Masters in the interdisciplinary field of communication sciences and computer sciences. His primary research involves mobile and contextual interfaces, social aspects of mobile systems, and ambient intelligence. He lives on coffee.

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F1Figure 1. Primary and secondary contexts are defined and separated by the act of publishing.

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©2006 ACM  1072-5220/06/0700  $5.00

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