Capturing Life

The Read Write Web wonders if the time we spend digitally capturing and communicating every aspect of our lives is blocking us from actually enjoying life.

Thanks to technology, we never have to forget any experience of our lives. We can snap photos, annotate them, and share them with others instantly. We can archive them to the timeless web for posterity. And maybe one day, our great-great-grandkids can pursue our social network profiles in the cached pages of Internet Archive and learn everything we ever wanted the world to know about us.

And yes, that’s great. It’s amazing, really. But what about us and the lifetime we spent recording these things? Did we waste our lives documenting them and forget to live?

I’m sure a compelling argument could be made for the premise, and there are probably sociologists in the process of studying this particular phenomena.

And there certainly are folks who go overboard in attempting to document every event, major and minor. Just as some will go to excess in other activities.

However, for many people I know, capturing and communicating what they see around them has simply become a significant segment of their lives, not a substitute for it.

Building a Library Community

Last January, the Library of Congress took a very small part of their collection of photographs and put them on flickr, kicking off The Commons section of the online image sharing site.

We were essentially conducting an experiment to see how crowdsourcing might enhance the quality of the information we are able to provide about our collections, while also finding innovative ways to get those collections out to people who might have an avid interest in them.

So, was the experiment successful?

Only nine months into the Library of Congress’ pilot project placing Library photos on the Web site Flickr, the photos have drawn more than 10 million views, 7,166 comments and more than 67,000 tags, according to a new report from the project team overseeing the lively project.

“The popularity and impact of the pilot have been remarkable,” said Michelle Springer, project manager for digital initiatives in the Office of Strategic Initiatives, who said total views reached 10 million in October. The site is averaging 500,000 views a month, she said, adding that Flickr members have marked 79 percent of the photos as “favorites.”

Encouraging visitors to add comments has resulted in some very rich histories being written about some pictures, including information the curators at the Library never had.

Administrators at the Library are so pleased with the response from this toe-in-the-water trial that they are now looking for new web 2.0 communities to share more of their materials.

How about pulling some of that video out of the vaults and creating a Library channel on YouTube?

[Thanks to John for the link]

Part of the Crowd

Video clips of Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin from yesterday are all over the morning news shows.

However, if you want a good feeling for what it was like to be in the crowd, take a look at the 360° panorama from the event (link requires Flash 9) at the always-incredible

One Step Back From Paranoia

From this morning’s Post, evidence that exercising the right to petition the government for redress of grievances (most people forget it’s part of the First Amendment) sometimes pays off.

Following a rash of reports from people who had been harassed by security at Union Station, a landmark federal property in the District of Columbia, for simply taking photographs, a Congressional committee told managers of the facility to cut it out.

Yesterday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) convened a congressional hearing that spotlighted complaints from area photographers who say they have been repeatedly barred by security personnel from taking pictures in the building. Norton expressed outrage, saying that photos should be allowed unless it can be shown that the pictures are a security threat.

At least 10 photographers from a local group called DC Photo Rights have been stopped by security personnel while taking pictures in the past year, members told Norton. The group defends the rights of photographers to take pictures in public places and has described Union Station as one of the most troublesome spots.

As you might expect, members of DC Photo Rights posted pictures from the hearing in flickr and the local Fox station that documented some of the stupidity also covered the proceedings.

One small step…

A Receipt for Your Crime

Since I’ll be visiting London for a week in July, this is just a little scary.

A member of the flickr Photography is not a crime group posts his story of being stopped by London police for taking pictures on a street in his neighborhood.

It just so happens that the street is near a electric substation, a site that someone had decided might possibly be a potential terrorist target.

But what really put this over the top is that the two plain clothes officers gave him a copy of the write up, which, of course, he duly photographed and posted on flickr.

Smile for the Camera

That little dot is us. Earth as seen from Mars, photographed by the Mars Rover Spirit four years ago.

And this is the Earth and Moon as seen from Mars, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter about 9 months ago.

If you’re not following the Phoenix Rover’s tweets from Mars (by way of Pasadena, California), you’re missing some great stuff from millions of miles away.

Terrorism and Photography

It’s logical, right? Someone plotting a terrorist act would first take plenty of pictures in the process.

So, authorities are completely justified to be suspicious of photographers, right?

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

The writer goes on to explain more about why harassing people taking pictures in public spaces is a waste of time and money.

As well as how and why we should push back when security people try to exceed their authority.

This is worth fighting. Search “photographer rights” on Google and download one of the several wallet documents that can help you if you get harassed; I found one for the UK, US, and Australia. Don’t cede your right to photograph in public. Don’t propagate the terrorist photographer story. Remind them that prohibiting photography was something we used to ridicule about the USSR. Eventually sanity will be restored, but it may take a while.

Sanity? Now that’s something we could use a lot more of in all these discussions about security.

Picturing The Photography Ban

I don’t watch a lot of local news but fortunately, this story is online so all can view the stupidity that seems to be a growing part of living in the DC area.

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few years about people being harassed for taking pictures in public places around the District, the latest wave centered on Union Station.

Last week a reporter from the local Fox affiliate did a story on the topic which included filming segments inside the Station itself.

However, the true irony here is that while they were interviewing a representative from Amtrak (it is a train station, after all), a security guard tried to stop them saying that there was a “no photography” policy in the building.

Union Station

Of course, he couldn’t define the policy and the reporter wasn’t able to find it on the company web site or get an official copy from the company that manages the site.

They also showed video of several tourists snapping away without being harrassed, something I’ve observed every time I’ve been there.

The Fox story ended with a note about the District Congressional representative (give that lady a vote, already!) proposing some kind of legislation on the matter.

I’m not sure a new law is required but someone certainly needs to explain to all the paranoid security people in this area that photography does not equal terrorism.

If you’re interested in more on this issue, the very active DC Photo Rights group in flickr is a good place to start.

Growing the Commons

Back in January, the Library of Congress began an outreach experiment by posting a relatively small selection of pictures from their collection to flickr. Since then they’ve been adding about fifty images a week.

This month, two museums join the library in posting their pictures to The Commons section of the photo sharing site.

The Brooklyn Museum in New York contributed more than 500 images from their collection and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia added almost that many.

As with the images provided by the Library, visitors to the museums pages are encouraged to leave comments and add tags they believe will help users better find them.

All pictures also can be easily downloaded and carry “no known copyright restrictions” making them excellent materials for both teachers and students to use for projects and presentations.

Currently the collection at the top of the BM pages includes some interesting pictures from expeditions to Egypt in the early part of the 20th century.

Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more institutions joining the Commons very soon.

A Picture of Paranoia

Here’s yet another strange campaign to make the general public even more paranoid.

The London Metropolitan Police are running newspaper ads asking the public to be on the look out for “odd looking photographers“.

Thousands of people take photos every day. What if one of them seem odd?

Terrorists use surveillance to help plan attacks, taking photos and making notes about security measures like the location of CCTV cameras. If you see someone doing that, we need to know. Let experiences officers decide what action to take.

While the multiple overlapping law enforcement agencies in DC haven’t gone so far as to advertise, many of their people already consider anyone using a “professional” camera in certain parts of town to be suspect.

In case you’re unaware, a “professional” camera is pretty much any SLR. Or so I’ve been told. Which, I suppose, is different from the completely innocent “tourist” point-and-shoot model.

I’ll be visiting London for a while this summer and will be frequently using my “professional” camera (Canon Rebel XT) during the trip.

I wonder if Scotland Yard will consider me “odd”.

Abandoned Knowledge

A photographer from Detroit posted a set of pictures from the city’s abandoned school book depository that are both sad and strangely beautiful.


Equally poignant are his thoughts about what he saw.

All that’s left is an overwhelming sense of knowledge unlearned and untapped potential. It is almost impossible not to see all this and make some connection between the needless waste of all these educational supplies and the needless loss of so many lives in this city to poverty and violence, though the reality of why these supplies were never used is unclear. In some breathtakingly-beautiful expression of hope, an anonymous graffiti artist has painted a phoenix-like book rising from the ashes of the third floor.

Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.

Extending the Library

The people at the Library of Congress have worked hard to provide access to materials from the public collections on their web site, especially through the wonderful American Memory.

Now they are reaching out even farther by posting more than 3000 images in flickr.

Based on a quick scan through their section, the pictures seem to be pretty high quality, most in color from the 40’s and 50’s.

More importantly, the images come with fairly detailed documentation about the subjects and origins of the pictures, are extensively tagged, and have no copyright restrictions.

Hopefully, this is just the start of the Library and other public educational institutions extending access to their materials by offering them through the common gathering places on the web like flickr.

I wonder when their video collection will start showing up in YouTube.