Sicherheitsglaeser: Sicherheit Zuerst

(Safetyglasses: Safety First)

Steve Mann, 1997

Inverse privacy: social and artistic experiments with two-sided computer screen to make what was otherwise, in my previous wearable computing work of the 1970s and 1980s, private, something that is public for the 1990s. Left and center: Plenary lecture plus weeklong performance at Ars Electronica 1997. "DoubleVision" two-way screen: one side faces the wearer; the other side faces others in the environment so they can see what the wearer sees, or a redacted version thereof. The double-sided display eliminated what was otherwise a socially obnoxious cyborg practice of being in one's own world ignoring other people. While meeting someone, the wearable face-recognizer automatically did a background search and displayed that person's web site. The person could see that the wearer was actually paying attention to them and not ignoring them by reading email or doing idle "web surfing". Right: Mann's Safetyglasses on exhibit at List Visual Arts Centre Oct9-Dec28, 1997.

Artist statement

The "safetyglasses" provide a literal embodiment of the reflectionist philosophy of cultural criticism (holding a "mirror" up to society). Reflectionism borrows from the situationist tradition of detournement (re-situating ordinary everyday objects in a disorienting fashion in order to challenge our pre-conceived notions and cultural biases), yet not only appropriates the tools of the opressor but also "reflects" these same tools back at the opressor. Furthermore, in addition to letting the opressor see himself/herself in a "mirror", reflectionism also creates a symmetry. In addition to being a metaphorical emobiment of reflecitonism the glasses are also a literal embodiment of this "mirror". Quite literally the person standing in front of me IRL sees himself/herself upon the computer screen that is attached to my eyeglasses, facing out. The glasses reflect from a website mirror what is actually present.
HUMANISTIC INTELLIGENCE: The `WearComp' and `WearCam' inventions as
`reflectionist' tools of intervention on the `Surveillance Superhighway'

The recent proliferation of video surveillance cameras, interconnected with high speed computers and central databases is moving us toward a high-speed `surveillance superhighway', as governments install cameas throughout entire cities (such as Liverpool and Baltimore) to monitor citizens in all public areas. As businesses work alongside governments to build this superhighway, and expand it into private areas as well, there is a growing need to develop new methodologies to question these practices. THE FIVE HORSEMEN OF THE SS This exhibit holds a mirror up to the ways in which agents and representatives of the video surveillance superhighway defend their infrastructure: (1) Secrecy: cameras are often hidden in whole or in part (e.g. in dark domes so that we don't see which way they are pointing or even whether or not a camera is present). The security profession is itself also often not subject to open debate or peer-review; (2) Rhetoric: ``public safety'', ``loss prevention'', or ``For YOUR protection you are being videotaped''; (3) Constancy: department store clerks don't follow you around with camcorders, but, rather, video surveillance is present in a ``matter of fact'' manner, as part of the architecture's {\em prosthetic territory}; (4) Appeal to a higher and unquestionable authority: ``I trust you and know you would never shoplift, but my manager installed the cameras'', or ``We trust you, but our insurance company requires the cameras''; (5) Criminalization of the critic: ``Why are you so paranoid; you're not trying to steal something are you?''. I refer to these five defenses as the `five horsemen of the surveillance superhighway', and this seemingly impenetrable argument formed the inspiration behind a series of performance pieces of the 1980s and 1990s. The tools of these performance pieces were made by re-situating the symbols of authority/surveillance (networked computers, cameras, databases, etc.) in a disturbing and disorienting fashion, namely the body of the individual, who might otherwise be completely powerless against a representative of the surveillance superhighway. For example, while entering a department store or the like, I might note that the fire exits are illegally chained shut, and report this fact by transmitting a live video feed to a network of friends and relatives looking out for each other's safety. This network I call the `SafetyNet', and when challenged by department store security guards who are quick to point out that photography is strictly prohibited on their premises (even though video surveillance is used extensively), I describe my `WearComp' invention (a multimedia computer I built into ordinary sunglasses) as `safetyglasses' for `reducing crime'. This and other `reflectionist' performances attempt to ``mirror'' the principles of visual surveillance, such as the principle that it often arises from a higher and unquestionable authority. Similarly, I might operate under remote control (in the Stelarc sense) or simply declare that `My Manager' requires that I wear `safetyglasses' while I am running errands on company time --- that ``these safetyglasses are part of my company uniform'', hence shifting the blame for violating store policy onto a higher and unquestionable authority. The five horsemen of the SS are thus dealt with: (1) Secrecy: Completely covert embodiments of the WearComp/WearCam invention have been created, and used in places where photography is strictly prohibited, to document video surveillance apparatus together with representatives of organizations responsible for it. Other embodiments included `probably camera', a wearable device constructed to look like a camera, but in such a way that others were not sure which way it was pointing, and `maybe camera', constructed so that others could not readily determine whether or not the device was a camera. However, while the camera was covert, in the Linz performance, a second visual display was used to "mirror" the www site, so that an individual trying to make eye contact was instead met with a "mirror image" of themselves. (2) Rhetoric: The rhetoric of personal safety was used as a reflectionism of the rhetoric of public safety. (3) Constancy: The devices were wearable, rather than carried, so that it could not be discerned by others, whether they were in actual use or not, at any given time. The devices were part of my {\em prosthetic territory} (e.g. clothing). (4) Appeal to higher and unquestionable authority: Various performances, such as `My Manager', used the principle of `subservience empowerment'. (5) Criminalization of the critic: Inferences pertaining to the possible criminal intent of those who questioned personal safety devices were made, such as possible violations of fire safety, such as fire exits illegally chained shut or fire exits blocked. In this exhibit, I presented various embodiments of my ``WearComp'' and ``WearCam'' inventions developed as interventionist tools.


I'd like to thank Gerfried Stocker and Jutta Schmiederer, overall organizers of the event, for inviting me to give plenary lecture and to perform "SafetyGlasses" in Linz. Thanks to Tom Sherman for much in the way of feedback both directly and through his online net symposium. Thanks also to Patrizia Maier for organizational assistance, to Hans Soukup for networking assistance and help getting the base station site up and running (antenna on roof of arts building in downtown Linz, etc), and to Andy Kleen for kernel hacking and other linux-related assistance.
Text of the essay I wrote for my invited plenary lecture, given on September 10, 1997, published in the proceedings under the "Symposium" section.
Archive of entire Linz performance at reduced temporal resolution (e.g. selected images from the video stream). .