everyday life

Capturing Memories

On the 22nd February 2013, my father-in-law, George Michael, who heralded from Paphos, Cyprus, slept in the Lord at the age of 89.

I've known my father-in-law for a good 19 years... we had lots of happy times together and we were best of friends. I cherish those memories. We never had a single argument, he always had wise words to give me that were measured, and he was my confidant. 

We would spend a great many hours together on Saturdays, or after the evening meal, just chatting about the past, and his life experiences.

Truth be known, I loved to listen to dad tell stories...

He was born in 1924 and learnt to swim in the Coral Bay Sea (in those days it was sink or swim). It always captured my imagination that he was born on the Isle of Aphrodite.

Courtesy: http://www.yourgreekgetaway.co.uk/images/photos/coral-bay-sea-caves-3.jpg

Courtesy: http://www.yourgreekgetaway.co.uk/images/photos/coral-bay-sea-caves-3.jpg

Dad gave me a view of the Great Depression in the 1930s (e.g. there was the story of how the kids in his neighbourhood would fill a sock with rocks and pretend it was a soccer ball, and feet would get bloodied and dirty during a game, and how an empty sardine tin would be put to good use in a game that was reminiscent of cricket). Later, as a direct result of these difficult years his family would lose almost all of their possessions.

He studied hard and graduated with high marks from his secondary school. He was taught by British-trained teachers and had excellent English grammar- often reminding us of the difference between a predicate and subject in a sentence. His favourite author was Homer and he could quote verbatim the opening passages of The Odyssey .

In 1948 dad migrated to Australia on a plane from Cyprus where passengers faced each other and sat on long aisle benches, carried their own parcel of home-packed food, and could see the cockpit from where they were sitting (unbelievably trips to the bathroom were limited to stopovers). The aptly named, Captain Speermint was the pilot. It took 7 days to fly to Australia and there were stops at exotic places like Sri Lanka. He recollected that the plane's door literally fell off just prior to take off from Nicosia Airport.

George Michael with MG at the University of Sydney in 1991 (MTheol graduation).

George Michael with MG at the University of Sydney in 1991 (MTheol graduation).

A few years later my father-in-law opened the Reno Cafe in Newtown, NSW, met Helen, married her and the rest is history... well that and the fact, that he spent almost 50 years at the cafe before retiring in his early 70s... he took very few days off in all these years- on Christmas Day, after a hernia operation, and to see his son graduate at university.

These memories, and many more, are tucked neatly away in my heart and mind. I don't need "inch-by-inch" video recordings of my father-in-law to recollect him. Just yesterday I saw him in a dream going about checking for letters in his letterbox at home. It was precious and the joy was in the re-telling.

In 2002 when George began to have complications with his heart and I began to consider embarking on parenthood, I decided to take a few video tapes conversing with him for his grandchildren, "just in case"... I prompted him in a structured interview and without 'air and pomp' (given the modest man that he always was), he delivered his stories one by one. We did three almost hour-long videos together, and by the end of it, dad had exhausted the "best of" stories.

Years later it got me thinking... what we each hold close to us can possibly only be verbalised in no more than 3-5 hours. Trivialities aside, it is not what we say in words that makes a life... it is who we are that counts. 

Memoirs too, seldom fill more than 1000 pages, and most stand at a consumable 230 pages or thereabouts.

Do we really need every moment captured on video? What does it profit us if we do?

Yes- I have to admit. It would have been incredible to catch a glimpse of dad when he was born, to hear his first cry. It would have been great to see him playing one of those childhood games I described above, happy and carefree, even during the Great Depression. To see his parents and what they were like, to catch a glipmse of two siblings who lost their lives early. It would have been deeply moving  to see him graduate with "Arista" from his high school, working in the Bauxite mines, later as a member of the British Military Administration during WWII, on the plane to Australia, and when he first opened his beloved cafe.

Courtesy: Michael Family Archives  Picture taken of George Michael circa early 1950s at his beloved Reno Cafe, Newtown where he spent close to half a century.

Courtesy: Michael Family Archives

Picture taken of George Michael circa early 1950s at his beloved Reno Cafe, Newtown where he spent close to half a century.

But actually, when I really think about it, I have all that I need, quality time spent with him, not footage of him. I have about 25 photographs that are priceless to my family, like this one above. I have this very photograph on my kitchen wall. I'd like to remember him just like this. Here he is circa early 1950s, in 341 King St, Newtown. The old Holdens can be seen in the reflection of the mirror. This photo encapsulates my father-in-law- what more would I need? The mystery of his person lives on free of any human limitations.

Storytelling is an art. It is calculated, not full of details that often mean very little. Every part of our life does not have to be action-jammed. It just has to be "our" life, special for what it is.

Nowadays, we are placing undue pressure on our younger generation by the apps we are building. My students tell me that "status updates" need to always be exciting... that you need to be seen always doing something, and to look cool, hip and great in photos or video... inventions like Digital Glass could only exacerbate this expectation and will add even more moment-to-moment pressure on people.

But the reality is that the simple question "what are you doing now?" does not have to be answered every 2 minutes... life happens moment by moment of course, but our milestones take in effect decades to accomplish, even a lifetime in some contexts. We might be getting better at quantifying the banalities of life- but what about qualifying life?

When MG Michael, Roba Abbas and I ran a GPS data logger experiment in 2008, we soon realised that our participants were more preoccupied with increasing their waypoint count and to be documenting that they had done more than other participants, than by the quality of the activity(ies) they were engaged in. One participant would say: "I've done 10,000+ waypoints today", and another would say "but I've only done 400". One of the biggest learnings for me personally came, when the participant who had done an average of 400 waypoints per day documented that he had a "boring life" in his daily diary and that all he did was study. On the one-hand I agreed with him that maybe, it would be good to get more fresh air, but on the other hand I told him that if he had done 10,000+ waypoints that would leave very little time for study. Moving around a lot geographically, and being busy, between work, home, and university, and social events does not always necessarily equate to quality of life, just quantity. You could do 10,000+ waypoints and be miserable for being so busy, and do 400 waypoints and think you are king of the castle.

My father-in-law slept, worked, and lived in his beloved Reno Cafe and was one of the most content people I've ever met. His waypoint count on most days would have been condensed into a 30 by 10 metre shop front and not been more than 400 waypoints most certainly... What does it mean then to be content in today's terms?

This brings me to my next point... how technology is encroaching the sacred space of meditation. Yes, we can learn from reflecting on video we take of ourselves, active in an event. But actually, what we really need is some time to reflect alone, in quiet and in secret. We come to this realisation repeatedly when we are suffering (for example, during relationship issues, in sickness, or in the passing of a loved one). In fact, MG has often commented to me since the passing of his father, that although he was certainly grateful for the many people that surrounded him and his mother during those first difficult days, he longed for a solitude, to grieve alone.
Social media, smart phone, the cloud and the rest, have meant that we are invariably connected with technology, and yet not connected with oneself, our spiritual side. Certainly I have found, from my personal experience, the more I have become engaged in the wireless Internet in general, the less time I have had to meditate, or read texts of an inspiring nature. Or perhaps my motivation has dwindled as a result of the instantaneous nature of all these mediums and I have not forced myself to retract.
Interruptions via mobile phone have meant time away from loved ones (even though I consider myself rigid with its use). "Web sites", even like this one, have meant less hours sleep, despite that it is "my work..." The list goes on. I am not talking about work-life balance but something deeper about what we have become, questions of ontology and metaphysics, and pondering on what we might become with those things which are being predicted, if we do not acknowledge some of the probable drawbacks of new technologies...

And now back to my father-in-law... a few more thoughts in closing. He was always one for innovation.

In Cyprus the cafe (kafenio) his father owned had the first wireless radio in the town, and men would gather from Peyia to listen to this great and awesome machine. In Sydney, dad bought one of the first televisions available in Newtown...

Transient
Courtesy: http://cdn.dipity.com

Courtesy: http://cdn.dipity.com

He could see clearly how computers could improve business operations. And was always amazed by such things as text-to-speech synthesizers, biometrics and the like. 

He was proud of working hard and having the ability to purchase things... and he thought it was important to keep up with the change, lest one fall behind. But he only ever used technology when it was really needed, not because he had to. There is a discernible difference.

Finally, I think about what dad's life might have looked like from the outside if it was wholly video recorded. Perhaps words some content analysts might have used would have been "plain", "simple", "monotonous", "repetitive", "routine". But it certainly was far from that. The analysts might have segmented his life in several stages:-

Snapshot 1: The Great Depression: Growing up with very little, going to school and studying hard under oil lamp, and farming the land on weekends, and with his father at the Peyia cafe serving the citizenry.

Snapshot 2: The migrant story: Arriving in Australia with enough money for one night's accommodation at the Ritz Carlton, and a single suitcase of clothes, knowing nobody.

Snapshot 3: Spending almost 50 years at the Reno, serving customers, behind the grill, ordering supplies, and mopping up.

Snapshot 4: As a father, grandfather, and husband.

That's life from the outside. Video is highly prone to misinterpretation and notorious for the exclusion of context. What matters, is things that one cannot utter or say or be seen doing. It is that warm and fuzzy feeling I get, my husband gets, and my children get when we recollect my father-in-law in our memories.

It is the estimated 5 million plates of food he and my mother-in-law, Helen, delivered in their life at the restaurant- serving others. What matters are those priceless conversations he had with his customers who loved him dearly and would come back again and again. Some of these customers walking in young men and not leaving until their own deaths almost half a century later. And then there are the stories he did not repeat often- almost shy and embarrassed to bring up in conversation- when he and Helen would in the evenings make sure to hold on to "the leftovers of the day" to pass onto the homeless and those in need.

Thanks Dad- you were the best father-in-law I could have ever hoped for! George misses your talks, Eleni your tricks, and Jeremy your hugs.

"May your memory be eternal."

Censoring with Glass - Yes, Video Has Its Limitation Too

This morning while speaking with MG Michael we talked about the limitations of wearables.

Those who argue that they wear their video recorders 24x7 need to start qualifying their statements.

There were the embarrassing Google StreetView lessons learnt when Google first began its mission- people caught in the field-of-view from a public road using their "outside dunny (toilet)" while reading their newspaper, people caught drunk to oblivion on the front of their home lawn, bus drivers "peeing" by the side-walk 'behind' a bus while thinking no one was watching and much more... Here are some examples to trigger your memories. And here is how to get yourself removed if you found yourself in a compromising photo.

Source: Her.ie http://her.ie/story/nsfw-the-awkward-moment-when-google-street-view-catches-you-in-a-compromising-position-598014  Caption reads: The good news is that Google has since blurred out the image, so there’s no chance of the couple being identified by their pants.

Source: Her.ie http://her.ie/story/nsfw-the-awkward-moment-when-google-street-view-catches-you-in-a-compromising-position-598014

Caption reads: The good news is that Google has since blurred out the image, so there’s no chance of the couple being identified by their pants.

Now, it's really important to note that Google don't just use cars, they also have other form factors recording- e.g. bicycles, as depicted below.

Courtesy: New York Daily News

Courtesy: New York Daily News

Here are some 2009 images from Australia!

Courtesy: Google

Courtesy: Google

The images above are conservative as opposed to some I have chosen NOT to embed into this blogpost for fear of further privacy breach to the individuals concerned.

*

As I've said in a previous post on this site, introducing Digital Glass means that we are to some extent going beyond Google StreetCars, Google StreetBicycles and the like. We are wardriving on foot now with Digital Glass, sousveilling the streets now with mobile drones; these drones just happen to be voluntary human subjects wearing one or more cameras.

But what happens when people use the toilet and the record button is on their digital glass? What happens when people go to bed? Do they take off their glass? What happens when someone is disciplining their child about an incident- are they recording the wrongdoings of the child as they try to make them understand why their actions were inappropriate? What happens when people are having an argument, and things that should never be uttered come into the fore disclosing very personal details or behaviour that was irrational in speech? What happens when you learn the news that someone has died, and feel like your whole world has collapsed around you? What happens when you are visiting a sick person in hospital who is terminally ill, and they are reduced to skin and bones? Visiting a friend in jail? The list goes on and on. Surely the camera MUST be turned off.

In our discussion this morning, MG Michael deliberated on such events, that are of a highly personal and intimate nature. He has written previously about the need for privacy in such moments in life. This does not mean, as we have written in numerous articles, that one seeks for cameras to be turned off because they are doing something wrong or wish to commit a crime but because some things are just "no-go" zones for outside viewing.

Don't be fooled- cameras on people WILL not reduce crimes! Criminals will just get better at corruption, in its manual or digital form. The more digital the corruption, the greater the potential that the stakes are higher and the corruption is of a more sinister and gross form. And I'm not just talking corporate fraud here.

So "point of eye" (PoE) as Professor Steve Mann rightly calls it, inspired some additional thoughts in MG Michael about censorship, exclusion, deletion, information representation, which are all core concepts of the limitation of living in an uberveillance society. In fact, PoE can be the manner in which one decides to censor their field of view.

Consider the following simple scenario. A male goes to the toilet. As he goes about his business he does not look down while wearing a digital camera but he looks straight ahead. This is selective recording, in a way, a type of censorship. Even worse, while the male goes to wash his hands, he takes a look into the mirror, and the reflection records someone else going to the toilet with their crown jewels in full view.

By nature, our own PoE will capture ourselves in the best light, but the other person either deliberately or accidentally in the worst light. Of course, all this will depend on prior relationships. If they are family, likely we will record them in the best light, if they are friends much the same, if they are strangers we might be indifferent...

Taking the scenario further, body worn video recorders that will soon be worn by some police and citizens alike, may/may not take footage of a given incident, depending on the lifeworld of the wearer. The incident may be 100% in their field of view, but because their "point of eye" neglects to record it by the turn of their head, the evidence is not gathered and stored for further inspection. You see, digital glass does not have a 360 degree camera view, it is not a headband that has embedded cameras at the back of our head, side, looking up and down etc. The camera is STILL in the control of the wearer, and he or she can decide what they wish to gather or exclude. This has huge implications, and till now, has not been addressed by any other academic researcher to our knowledge.

Make no mistake, while this technology may limit the extent of complaints against police regarding brutality, the limitations of video will always exist. The PoE is in the control of the beholder who comes endowed with his/her own lifeworld- it is their subjective reality. This has a great impact on evidence gathering/direct evidence in a court of law, in how police will manage prosecutions and complaint handling, and how crowdsourcing will becoming increasingly important in the field of policing to corroborate stories. We will not be complacent in the future with just ONE field of view, but multiple, and even then we will never have omniscience.

Courtesy: JesusDiaz Gizmodo

Courtesy: JesusDiaz Gizmodo

The 'Vagus' Effect

"The Mayor of Las Vegas is making a serious plea to Prince Harry now that he's back from Afghanistan -- COME BACK TO VEGAS, ASAP!!!"
But TMZ spoke with Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman ... who thinks Harry deserves a Vegas do-over ... "We’re absolutely excited he’s home," Goodman says ... adding, "Prince Harry is always welcome in Las Vegas. When he was here everyone was talking about it. We welcome him back with open arms.”

Read more: http://www.tmz.com/category/prince-harry-vegas-pictures/#ixzz2N3d20T6D

Courtesy: TMZ

Courtesy: TMZ

In "that" interview delivered by Prince Harry when he stated that "I probably let myself down", he attacked the press for invading his privacy... but should he really have attacked "the other"? I've dubbed this the "Vagus Effect" .

"The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve. It contains motor and sensory fibers and, because it passes through the neck and thorax to the abdomen, has the widest distribution in the body. It contains somatic and visceral afferent fibers, as well as general and special visceral efferent fibers."

Source: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1875813-overview

With body worn video (BWV) recording devices a publicly available good for purchase, it won't take people long to figure out that they can make large sums of money by recording others and then blackmailing them over their behaviour. The real crunch will come when disputes over "being recorded" end up in court, or individuals are refused entry for wearing BWV.

Banning Glass is like Banning Smart Phones: Unrealistic

Can a club ban a piece of technology that has been approved by the FCC for use in the USA? Good question.

"You might as well advise a man to change the colour of his eyes."

Credits:  A Man for All Seasons: A Play of Sir Thomas More by Robert Bolt (play adapted above by Tim Bezant)

Credits:  A Man for All Seasons: A Play of Sir Thomas More by Robert Bolt (play adapted above by Tim Bezant)

The Fragility of Glass

Courtesy: ScienceBlog

Courtesy: ScienceBlog

The social implications of digital glass are yet to be fully grasped but Mann attempts to theorise some of these through his experiences with wearables since the 1970s. Steve Mann along with more recent examples in Gordon Bell and Cathal Gurrin, have much to teach us about these implications through their trials. My concerns are with the 'fragility of glass', what this fragility will mean for this generation, and how it will impact relationships using power (authorised and unauthorised). There will inevitably be various points of view of first hand direct evidence- which point of view to believe will be the real question. And then you have the question of the expert manipulators, deletions, and falsification of evidence. We are possibly going to be raising a generation of 'actors' playing to a world theatre; individuals who won't really know who they are unless they are connected visually to the grid, watching or being watched. Glass has its advantages in context, but it will also shatter lives and dreams, as videos of moments best forgotten are in full view for everyone to see, and replay, again and again. Glass will give us near real time omnipresence but we can never ever have omniscience. We are also backing ourselves into a corner- if you decide to live without glass it does not mean you will not be privy to the consequences of those who choose to live their whole life through a camera. In fact, you are in their point of view, like it or not... We are in desperate need of research into the psychological effects of glass, of seeing the world through a lens.  How does this impact the individual spirit? What are the positives of learning by being? What are the externalities? Our point of eye might well become the centre of our universe, but the bigger challenges in this world still pervade. In one sense we gain perspective using the lens, but the trade off might be that we lose perspective adversely because we are preoccupied with the self and what 'we' have seen and done.

Courtesy: Gail Giles  Please note: I have not read this novel, nor does it relate to Digital Glass to my knowledge. However the cover of the novel is quite revealing in symbolism.

Courtesy: Gail Giles

Please note: I have not read this novel, nor does it relate to Digital Glass to my knowledge. However the cover of the novel is quite revealing in symbolism.

Creative Omniscience

Transient

"...The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them."

Read more