Technomimesis and Sousveillance: Using Technology to Challenge Technosocial Surveillance.
Steve MannJason NolanBarry Wellman
Electrical and Computing EngineeringKnowledge Media Design InstituteSociology
University of TorontoUniversity of Toronto University of Toronto

Correspondence author: S. Mann =
University of Toronto
10 King's College Road, Room S.F. B540
Tel. (416) 946-3387; Fax: (416) 971-2326

Mann's demonstrations of how reflectionism and sousveillance can be used in device design and to generate "sousveillance", and his using of devices in a deliberately obfuscatory manner not only shines a bright light on the issue of surveillance, but explores mechanisms to challenge social norms, as a way of opening dialogues. The issue is not about how much surveillance and sousveillance is present in a situation, but generating an awareness of the disempowering nature of surveillance, its overwhelming presence in western societies, and the complacency of all participants towards this presence.

The intention of this paper is to resituate the work of Professor Steve Mann, cyborg, inventor, engineer, social critic and artist in the context of sociological discourse. Mann's work challenges much of academia due to its interdisciplinary nature, experimental design, confrontational positioning and performativity. The nature of his design work and inquiry puts him in conflict with many requirements for academic research such as the ethics of informed consent, explicit methodologies and research agendas; requirements that lead most academics to work in labs, controlled spaces, and existing literature. His background in engineering, computers, and performance art as both forms of expression and tools for social inquiry have allowed him to driectly engage the social issues surrounding surveillance as part of an emergent research design agenda situated in ethnomethodology and action research (Carr and Kemmis, 1986; Masters, 1995).

Our paper takes up the work of Mann as an example of action research that directly confronts technosocial surveillance using the technologies of oppression as technologies of emancipation, challenging the unstated assumptions of surveillance, ownership of space, and the assumptions of implicit urban interactional contexts. In order to do this we must look at Mann's idea of reflectionism, an interplay of techno-mimesis and tech-nemesis has been applied to the design of a variety of data collection devices based on wearable computers, as part of Mann's eyetap project ( We then describe how Mann uses his tools to engage in a dialogue with surveillance, to question the social hierarchy surveillance re-enforces. For Mann, issues of social hierarchy and privacy are explored through transgression of technological norms that mirror the technological framework of department stores, gambling casinos, post offices, etc., where surveillance is the primary source of governance and control. The dialogue is initiated by members of Mann's group who enter these locations and start collecting the same kinds of data tthat is collected through existing surveillance techniques wearing what Mann calls reflectionist devices. His primary goal is to engage in a dialogue with customer service personel, managers, security workers while wearing these reflectionist devices, in situations where the devices gave rise to a breaking of usually unstated rules within the establishments.

A typical example of Mann's method is the collection of video or photographic records within a department store. Such activity is expressly prohibited by the customer service personel under ordinary circumstances, is permitted by the same personel to continue collecting records if the wearer claims to be unable to stop, for various reasons such as external authority or inability. This has led Mann to suggest that such devices can be used to explore issues of self-empowerment through this type of design.

What is Reflectionism: Situating Ethnomethodological and action research inquiry
Reflectionism incorporates a series of ideas that center around the idea of challenging technology-based surveillance as a form of governance. The notion of techno-mimesis and the role of a tech-nemesis as method, location of inquiry, and rationale for the counter-surveillance (sousveillance) situate Mann's work within the Action Research tradition (Carr and Kemmis, 1986; Mann, 1998). The mimetic act of holding a mirror to the social environment is something that Mann moves beyond written narrative to the actual use of similar surveillance techniques to "watch the watchers", and this ability allows for the potential taking up of the nemetic role of "bringer of social justice" presented as an act of inquiry. Techno-mimesis is a term coined to contain idea of holding a critical lens (using the tools of surveillance to 'watch the watchers') up to accepted social situations through the use of technology. It partakes of both action research where research inquiry is used to bring about social change, and ethnomethodology which inquires into a social reality that "is an intersubjectively shared and socially constructed phenomenon". The positioning of Mann's research as antagonistic and directly critical of techno-social surveillance partakes of this desire to enact social change through research inquiry the emergent social phenomenon of technosocial surveillence.

Ethnomethodological and action research inquiry into social phenomena situate Mann's Reflectionism as a position that engages, challenges and inverts the power structure of networked surveillance. The role reversal between the surveilled individual and the act of surveillance, explores the social interactions that are generated by reflectionist observation, and suggest a series of scenarios and questions which Mann hopes to conduct further inquiry; primarily issues of collective- and self-empowerment within the panopticon of social surveillence and the governance of public and semi-public places (Foucault 1977; Ostrom, 1990). Mann's ethnomethodological inquiry leads to the exploration of techniques for repositioning the dialogue on surveillance within a public discourse by empowering the researcher, as a member of the public, to bring the technologies of surveillance to bear on the social hierarchy and those whose profession it is to maintain the a hierarchy of surveillance.

Reflectionism challenges the taken for granted notions of ubiquity, location, physical place and cyberspace, by taking them up in the context of transgression, privacy, and technology (Newman, 2000). Contemporary western society has tried to make technology mundane and somewhat invisible through its disappearance into the fabric of our buildings, consumed objects and lives. Through the creation of "pervasive computing", "ubiquitous computing", "smart floors", smart toilets, smart elevators, smart light switches, intelligent environments, intelligence gathering devices, "ubiquitous surveillance", etc., digital technologies are replacing the mechanical technologies of previous generations. And they are becoming equally invisible. But with this re-placement of technologies, and the concomitant data conduits, comes new opportunities for observation, data collection and surveillance. Jeremy Bentham's panopticon defined an observation system in which people could be placed under the possibility of surveillance without knowing whether or not they were actually under surveillance:

the major effect of the Panopticon [was] to induce in the inmate as state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its actual action; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. (Foucault,1977, 201)
This possibility of surveillance was intended to put the surveilled to be on their best behaviour at all times. Bentham proposed such an architecture for use in prisons, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.(Foucault,1977, 205) Ostrom's notions of self-governance also reflects the traditional importance of observation as a primary force of social cohesion in self-governed communities; that it is the ability to both observe and know what eachother is doing that is central to the maintenence of common spaces. (Ostrom, 1990, 59) But what is new can be found by further inquiry into the embeddedness of surveillance technologies, and the unequal access to these technologies, by the general public. The tools of the watcher are now very different than the tools generally available to the watched.

The Panopticon is designed such that the knowledge that there may be surveillance is sufficient to induce obedience to authority (Foucault, 1977). One way to challenge and problematize both the obedience and surveillance is to take the same panoptic elements and re-situate them on the individual to watch those in the tower. We coin this inverse-Panopticon as being "sousveillance" from the French for "sous" (below) and "veiller" (to watch). (Mirriam-Webster, 2002) Just like individuals watching guards from below the tower, seeks a device design allowing individuals (customers photograph shopkeepers; cab passengers photograph cab drivers; citizens photograph police officers; civilians photograph government officers) the ability to adopt sousveillance to counteract establishment surveillance. In many cases, this violates prohibitions on non-employees using recording devices. Following the methodology of Garfinkel who gained insight into unspoken social rules by being deliberately deficient in social co-operation and refusing to "play the game", Mann's mirroring of establishment surveillance and thus breaking known policies, forces an examination of the interaction outcomes and behavioural effects on customer service personel (Garfinkel, 1967; Mann, 2000; Mann 2001). This work is unique in that Mann is not designing for a particular user, but he is designing for a particular situation; the violation of rules. Due to the clandestine nature of his research, it makes sense to have the device on the body of the surveilled (customer, taxicab passenger, consumer, etc.) in the form of wearable computing devices.

Researchers such as Spears and Lea (1994) have discussed the ability of computer-mediated communication to equalize or reinforce power relations. And in certain social contexts, it has been suggested that Foucault's metaphor can be extended to computer-mediated communication as a form of increased social control by reinforcing established bureaucratic relations. In fact, Foucault states just this: "Panoptism was a technological invention in the order of power, comparable with the steam engine." (Foucault, 1980b, 71) In contrast,by reducing observeability, as well as cues to status and power, individuals are less likely to be influenced by them resulting divergence from group conformity and obedience to powerful others. We have not yet identified any research into face-to-face computer-mediated communication (communication involving computers where individuals are co-located in a single physical space) designed purposely to challenge or problematise the power relationship initiated by observation.

Solutions offered to privacy concerns have mainly dealt with technology enhancements, such as developing rules and protocols to negotiate privacy between personal agents and the environment. (Rhodes et al., 1999) Personal empowerment in wearable computing has also focused on enhancement via software features to augment one's knowledge base. However, access to more information does not imply greater self-power as this information could be controlled or exchanged via an external agent. Personal empowerment, though, can also be viewed in a social context on its human-human interaction effects. It is this social form of self-empowerment which Mann seeks to examine through the design of the devices to force a dialogue between the customer and customer service personel regarding surveillance policies in commercial establishments.

Reflectionism in Ethnomethodology Design
Instead of designing devices and interfaces for the user as consumer of a product, Mann designs for situations where the focus is the dialogue that develops between the wearer of the various device(s) and individual in public and commercial venues. Ethnomethodological inquiry embraces the level of uncertainty that surrounds these dialogues. No one is ever sure of the outcome of the interaction between device, wearer and conversant. Mann work with the understanding that design factors can influence sociological factors of interaction. (Dryer, et al., 1999) For example, it has been suggested that people who have more familiar mobile devices (such as laptop computers and personal digital assistants) are perceived to be more socially desirable than those with less familiar devices. (Dryer, et al., 1999) The wearing of technology can be seen as either acceptably empowering or unacceptably threatening, depending on the type of technology and location. The opportunity for engaging in sociological discourse about the role of technology and surveillance in our society changes based on numerous factors as well. A central goal, however, is to understand how an individual who is wearing sousveillance devices is perceived, as well as how attitudes toward surveillance and sousveillance are reinforced or challenged.

A naive interpretation of Reflectionism might leave one to think it is nothing more than bothering low-level customer service personel and engaging only the lowest level personnel who are merely symptomatic of a systematic problem, not the progenitors. However, with Reflectionism, Mann does directly challenge individuals who work for commercial concerns:

To Mann, Reflectionism tries to engage the customer service worker to reflect on his/her practice in concert with the reseracher (See "Can humans being customer service personel make customer service personel be human?"

In Mann's case, the mimetic/nemetic persuasion comes as a result of computer-mediated communication. The difference between his work and the captology framework (Fogg, 1997) is that he is not persuading users of his tools of inquiry (e.g. wearers of the devices) directly. Instead, are attempting to persuade people who interact with users of the devices within the context of a normal daily activity (e.g. when users of his devices shop or pretend to shop at a department store). The dimension of behaviour under examination trying to open a dialogue with workers with the goal of helping them to see that they are part of an oppressive social hierarchy.

If customers complain about establishment's surveillance system, such as the mysterious ceiling domes, Mann's group suggests that the customer service personel either claim not to know what is in the domes or the customer service personel absolve themselves of responsibility by redirecting us to speak with "the manager". (Mann, 2001) The manager can be bound by or can pretend to be bound by policies from a CEO, who is bound by a board of directors, and so on. The bureaucracy creates a credible and unquestionable authority allowing customer service personel to pretend to (or actually) have no control over. Customer service personel therefore externalize and absolve themselves of responsibility, a responsibility to a social order they complicitly help to maintain. Using reflectionist design to mirror establishments' surveillance, we have created a situation of inverse-Panopticon surveillance (what we call "sousveillance").

Examples of Interactions and Locations of Inquiry
Mann and his team have conducted experiments over a 22 year time period in various countries around the world, under a wide variety of circumstances. Because multiple observers were often present inconspicuously, to document the event, he maintains that the reliability of noting important details and description of the observations and circumstances was high. The observations further supplemented the experiences of many years of usage with similar devices, in less formal acts of inquiry.

Mann inverts Stanley Milgram's camera experiments where people facilitate the taking of photographs (Milgram, 1977) by examining the degree to which customer service personel will try to suppress photography in location where it is forbidden. Unlike many establishments' use of surveillance, Mann often deliberately makes it clear to customer service personel that their image is being taken. This is accomplished by providing appropriate image feedback on either a flat-panel screen or a data projector. The pictures were taken with either a pinhole camera, a flash-camera or a camera concealed under a dome. Mann suggests that the probability of interaction decreases with a decrease in device overtness (Mann, 2001). By having a salient display, debate is instantaneously provoked without the need for any comments from the wearer of the devices who are initially secondary in the interaction.

The intended purpose of these kinds of wearable computing devices is to provoke a response from individuals the researchers confront during their experiments.

Making the camera very obvious
In this situation, two cameras used with the high intensity wearable projection computer system, including: the concealed infrared night vision camera of Performance Two, and an additional ordinary hand held camera mounted to headgear. The purpose of using the additional camera was to make the act of taking a picture very obvious. Firstly, the additional camera chosen (a Kodak DC 260) looks very much like a camera, so that its function is very obvious. Also, unlike the infrared night vision camera it has a loud simulated click sound, that calls attention to itself whenever it takes a picture. Moreover, it has a built in electronic flash, so that even if customer service personel are facing in the opposite direction, they are quickly alerted to the fact that a picture has been taken. The device corresponds to consumer conceptions of what a camera should look like. When they turn to see what caused the flash, they can see their picture projected on the ground. To make the image capture more obvious, both pictures (still freeze-frame, as well as live video from the infrared imaging system) are displayed side-by side. The flash serves as a very effective annunciator, to indicate clearly that a picture is being taken every 19 seconds (the update rate of the color still camera). The text "CAMERAS REDUCE CRIME..." is used in the projection, together with the still and video displays. The observations begin in a series of shops, restaurants, malls, department stores, and the like, and ends on a street as with past performances. In many establishments, objections are raised to the taking of pictures for reasons that tend to centre around establishment policy.

If the wearer does not appear to be under control of the apparatus, that customer service personel often permit the wearer to continue to remain in the shop in some iterations of the experiment. Measures are taken to ensure that the wearer appears to have no control over the apparatus:

Mann notes found that shopkeepers, customer service personel, and other officials would often permit or accept the fact that the wearer is taking pictures in their establishments, when the wearer could attribute these acts to external (e.g. non-voluntary) circumstances or control, at one of the various steps along the externality continuum describe earlier.

As well, the wearer can claim to be subject to various obligations to not remove the device:

Other variations on similar themes, include deliberate prior adjustment of the camera so that it would malfunction and get stuck in the "on" position. When such malfunction is explained to the customer service personel, they often accept the photography in their establishments.

It was found that the greater the appearance of personal control, the less acceptable the act of image gathering. For example, the level of tolerance and acceptability for taking pictures varies according to the degree of the externality continuum. At the extreme, if the wearer explains the fact that he is not in control of the device and does not know when it takes a picture, then the majority of customer service personel do not object to a wearable data-collection computer system. And while initial objections to photography are often quickly made, after diffusing the control and responsibility of the device to an external authority, the customer service personel often make no further comments.

In other situations, if the wearer appeared to be "just following orders" mirroring the usual response patterns Mann observed in customer service personel, the act of taking pictures was tolerated. For example, a wearable camera made very obvious by flashlamp and a loud click for each picture, as well as by display of image content, was found to produce an extreme negative reaction. But the negative reaction could be countered by using a headset with microphone, and talking to a remote "boss" and explaining loudly, "They seem to be objecting to having their pictures taken...."

Compliance, or apparent compliance, to a credible external authority, seems to reduce objections made by customer service personel. Ideally, to be most effective, the wearer needs to be "oppressed" in the same way that the customer service worker is "oppressed". Thus, for example, the wearer of the eyeglasses is required, by an external manager, to wear the eyeglasses, while running errands on company time. Thus if the wearer of the computerized eyeglasses is simply wearing a uniform while purchasing some items for his company's business, and the eyeglasses are part of the uniform, there is greatly incresed acceptance of the wearer's requirement to wear the uniform. In some versions of the eyeglasses, a "comfort band" was designed to go around the back of the wearer's head so that the wearer could not remove the glasses.

In this way, the wearer and the department store customer service worker can feel sorry for each other's state of "oppression" while their respective managers require them to photograph each other. Meanwhile, while they engage in what would normally be a hostile act of photographing each other, they can be quite collegially human to one another, and discuss the weather, the baseball game that was on TV last night, or how terrible their respective managers are treating them by forcing them to photograph each other.

(a) Projected text: "Cameras reduce crime; for your protection your image shall be recorded and transmitted to the image recognition facility. (b) Confrontation with top officials at an upscale jewelry store. (c) A favorable reaction was obtained from department store security staff who thought the device was a good invention.

Conspicuously concealed cameras with wearable flat panel displays
Whereas performance three targeted primarily at upscale jewellery stores, gambling casinos, and other establishments being similar in nature to those in which the investigators had been required to leave, the goal of this set of performances is to create an ambiguous situation in which data-gathering wearable computer systems are conspicuously concealed. For example, "blatantly covert" domes are used. (See Fig. domewear.)
This figure shows a line of products, along with a corporate brochure that was created to present the artifacts in the context of purchased goods. As a result, a department store security guard objecting to the wearing of such apparatus would also, by implication, be objecting to a legitimate product of the legitimate consumerist society that his or her store was trying to uphold. Some performances involves re-situating surveillance domes onto wearable computers. Some of the experimental apparatus also incorporates various large flat panel data display screens, worn on the body, displaying video from a concealed camera, or even from a previous trip to the same shop (e.g. "no camera", so that when told that photography was prohibited, the wearer could indicate that no camera was present and that he was merely playing video recorded previously from the same shop).

In one situation, the investigators offer to cover up the data display with a piece of paper so that it would no longer bother the customer service personel. (See Fig. paperscreen.)

These images relate to a particular experience where individuals (presumably undercover security guards) object to the mere display of images captured within their retail establishment. The wearable computer with wearable 640x480 video display device is found to be most disturbing when it plays images of merchandise similar to that which come from a camera in this establishment, regardless of whether or not a camera was actually present. When persons claiming to be staff of the establishment objected to the video displays, the investigators offered to cover up the displays with sheets of paper. This offer to cover up the wearable display devices, so that the images would no longer be visible, are presented as a means of isolating the issues of privacy (the right to be free of the effects of measuring instruments such as cameras) from the issues of solitude (the right to be free of the effects of output devices such as video displays).

This situation created a distinction between the often conflated issues of privacy (as is violated by input devices such as cameras) versus solitude (which is violated by output devices such as video displays). The wearable computers with domes are found to create a very interesting dialog, because the size of the dome could be varied, e.g. a number of wearers having progressively larger and larger domes would enter an establishment until a complaint was raised. Answers would need to be provided to the customer service personel. In some cases, the investigators played back video recordings of the same customer service personel, or of other customer service personel in other shops. The video recordings had been generated by entering the shops with hidden cameras and asking the customer service personel what their domes on the ceilings of their shops were. For example, the investigators had a recording of department store customer service personel telling that the domes on their ceiling were temperature sensors. A record store owner had told the investigators that their dark ceiling domes were light fixtures. By playing back these recordings with flat panel displays, for the customer service personel to see, a true form of reversalism took place. It was found that the same kind of surveillance domes used by establishments could be reflected in wearable computing. These hemispheres of wine-dark opacity which may or may not contain surveillance cameras, and are so commonly found on the ceilings of many shopping establishments and gambling casinos, now give way to a true reflectionist model. The fact that the domes may or may not contain cameras creates an important design element for the wearer, because it is possible to arrange the situation such that the wearer does not know whether or not the apparatus contains a camera. Thus when questioned about the wearable domes, the investigators could reply with uncertainty.

Another element of the performance is a mockery of visibility and transparency. In one performance, a back-worn wearable flat panel display was arranged to show a view from a front-worn camera. When asked what this apparatus is, the wearer says that it is an "invisibility suit". This notion is nonsense, in the sense that the device certainly does not give invisibility (in fact it attracts all the more attention). However, it was found that by presenting the camera as art (e.g. as in Magritte's 1936 painting of a painting showing reality, as described in, unusual actions are accepted. Presenting the camera as part of a form of theatre, in the context of a humourously nonsensical invisibility suit performance, somehow legitimizes it, as an externality.

A similar result was found when the investigators described the domes as "lucky charms to chase away evil spirits". Such a nonsensical attribution to a clearly external force or notion or nonsense, was found to greatly increase the acceptability of wearing computers in establishments where cameras are normally strictly forbidden.

Conspicuously displayed cameras are worn in establishments where cameras are prohibited. A large 1024x768 flat panel display has been incorporated into one of the wearable computer systems. To maximize screen size on the body, the screen was mounted sideways. The second image shows Sousveillance under surveillance: standing under one of the department store's ceiling domes. The third image shows a backworn display shows output from a frontworn camera, so that people can see right through the wearer. The wearer's back has a window, showing what is in front of the wearer. And when asked what the device is, the wearer responds with a nonsensical answer, namely that the apparatus is an invisibility suit to provide privacy and protection from surveillance cameras. Such a silly answer externalizes the locus of control of the wearable camera, first such a crazy idea as an invisibility suit makes it hard for the customer service worker to reason with the wearer. Second, this is obviously performance art, fashion, and theatre of the absurd, the technology being a necessary part of the performance piece. Third, the wearer can argue that the motivation for wearing the camera is to protect the wearer from being seen by the department store's camera. The wearer can even claim that his manager requires him to wear the invisibility suit. The customer service worker's objection to the wearer's manager's sousveillance camera is transformed into an objection to the customer service worker's manager's surveillance camera.

The performative nature of Mann's work, over the past two decades, has meant that he conducts inquiry into the unstable research environment of public spaces such as streets, sidewalks, malls and shopping malls. And most recently this has included airports ( Mann's form of 'gorilla inquiry' is action research that takes up his subject through direct engagement, and what could be termed as civil disobedience, or at the very least, disruption of the norms and even unacknowledged acts of oppression by which commercial establishements, corporations, security organizations and their agents (sometimes unwittingly) participate . The authors of this paper, therefore, have collectively chosen to focus attention on the design, conceptualization and performance/inquiry of Mann and his students, rather than trying to do a detailed analysis of the actual data collected using unsuspecting or unwilling participants. It is our goal to replicate or simulate aspects of Mann's work as a follow up project under more traditional research conditions.

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