Wednesday, 12 May 2010

User Testing Repsonses: Dr. Kenneth Scott-Brown

This one's a bit different as his response is also the foreword to my book.

Dr. Kenneth Scott-Brown:

Observer: Magnifying the issues in surveillance.
The initial impression is reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit’s Lunar Robot from a Grand Day Out, albeit perfectly engineered and pristine. The coin operation delivers a simple digital read out showing the viewing target and then the user is faced with a visualisation task that is a quirky mix of reverse ‘etch‑a‑sketch’ and good old fashioned radio tuning. Each twist of the large dial flips the scene, the two hand turned knurled knobs change the ‘X and Y’ position of the image under the ‘scope. The average user has to stoop to get to the right height, and then twist their head to see through the spy hole. Then a close up of the pixel matrix reveals time lapse video of urban rural, indoor scenes. Some local, some national and some international.
The experience changes over the viewing period, initially the browser finds them self debating whether to figure out what is going on in the current scene or change the channel to find out what’s in the next one. This picks up two empirical questions.
Firstly, how much of a scene do you need to see to recognise it? A few flicks and twists help figure this out, one prediction is that on average a diagonal flick across the scene gives the best chance of recognition. The second one is how long do you need to fixate a scene to detect a change? How long in this case does it take to establish that these are live feeds from real CCTV cameras presented in time‑lapse format. It could easily be the case that some users browse so quickly that they don’t ever twig that the scenes change at all.
As a piece of visual art, paradoxically this limited view serves to illustrate the way that the installation is not constrained by the normal conventional boundaries of picture frames (the user gets to move the frame), or the linear limits of video‑based art where the artist has chosen the video frames to transmit their message. The point about Observer is that the interaction risks becoming addictive, there is no limit on the temporal constraint of the visual experience because it permanently and uniquely updates for each viewer.
A powerful underlying thread of themes is conveyed by the installation: there is a pain associated with extended surveillance voyeurism, there is a limit to how much of a scene that can actually be seen, the amount revealed by the ‘peep‑hole’ is much more like the amount of scene revealed by an individual glance of the human eye. This exhibit demonstrates magnifying glass problem or framing effect is a version of the same problem that surveillance operators face. On the one hand they can pan or zoom to find out what just outside the frame, they can multiplex the number of cameras, but there will still be items out of frame; and at the end of the day they can only really monitor one screen at a time.
With the scope of the cameras set to the local and the national level, the piece illustrates the extent and pervasiveness of modern surveillance, what if you recognise someone you know in the footage? What if they are in danger? This is the attraction of the piece, can you detect the unexpected?

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