Think of all the photos you have with people you don’t know in the background. Now imagine this - what if you could see all the photos others have taken that have you in the background. You when you’re not posing; just going about your life. What a story the collection would tell about your life. What are you wearing. Who are you with. What’s your common facial expression and posture. Do you remember when some of those photos must have been taken? It would be like seeing yourself in a documentary you're unaware of, literally through the lens of others.
One step further – to see photos of people you know well in the background of other people’s photos. You might learn things about them you couldn’t have imagined.
Maybe we’ll all get this chance to see ourselves au casual when online facial recognition is incorporated into search. Muy creepy but also enlightening.
As a student of human behavior it helps to be ultra-aware of oneself. So another idea occurred to me. In the user experience (UX) profession we have something called ‘personas’. These are characteristics and day-in-the-life stories that are rolled into an example person for the purposes of guiding product development and “user experiences”. These personas are given names, occupations, ages, education levels, experience and knowledge in certain areas, and specific behaviors and attitudes that have been observed in real life. In full disclosure, some have questioned the scientific validity of personas. Designers and others, though, consider them highly valuable even if they are flawed.
So imagine this – what if you could walk through a gallery of the personas that corporations think you fit into. For instance, due to recent disclosures I now know that Google thinks based on my search patterns that I am a 25-34 year old male. So in this gallery there would be a figure of this persona and a placard describing the persona’s traits. Google uses this persona to create products they think I would like. It’s actually not so important that these gallery personas accurately reflect who I am demographically – personas are about behaviors, interests, fears and desires. Again, how fascinating it would be to take in this collection of representations of who I am based on the trail of data I leave behind as I go about living my life.
What would I do with this information? Well, it would be like getting feedback, a way of capturing an unbiased data stream about myself. I might see disturbing things and hopeful things. Certainly here would be hints of how others might see me.
What if, in the future, corporations built androids with these persona traits and then observed them in daily life. That way, if the personas synch accurately to their human counterparts it would no longer be necessary to study actual humans for difficult or sensitive questions. So, say, these androids could be studied for research questions about sexuality or hygiene or mental health problems.
Frog Design posted a piece called Making Sense of Occupy, extolling the virtues of well-aimed photographs to avoid stereotypes and to tell a complete story.
I'd extend the observation about the value of photographs to include the value of primary recording of any kind, including audio. A first impression of something vs. what can be seen or heard in a later moment away from the event can be night and day.
Once when I interviewed a woman I thought to myself that she had nothing significant to say. Listening later to the recording, it was like a ghost in the room was saying stunning things - how could I have missed this on first hearing? Well, the act of seeking can be a distraction from taking it in.
Researchers and designers under great time pressures push for immediate discoveries from observations. All the more reason to "cover" an event. Yes, discover onsite. Focus on the hypotheses at hand and the unique behaviors being expressed. But also remember to pull back, allowing for the possibility of discovering points later. In the processing ("groking") is where many significant discoveries and new research questions pop up.
Moral: Don't rely on notes or your memory. Don't rely on your own socio-cultural categories or those of others. Get it on camera or on audio. Practice "covering" the parts and the contexts.
Experience researcher of built environments with an anthropology provenance. Copyright 2004-2017