Same Story, Different Century
By Carlo Longino, Tue Jul 20 21:00:00 GMT 2004

The furor that's erupted over the use of cameraphones in public mimics the reaction to the portable camera when it was introduced more than 100 years ago.


Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing points to an article from the US' Public Broadcasting System detailing the public reaction to the introduction of the Kodak portable camera in 1888.

Evidently shortly after the cameras came on the market, "camera fiends" would troll public beaches waiting to snap pictures of unsuspecting women, and the Hartford Courant newspaper editorialized that "the sedate citizen can't indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday School children." The vocabulary may be different, but today's backlash is the same.

The Kodak camera's ability to capture spontaneity -- whereas previous cameras required people to sit still -- was both its main selling point, but also what scared people. Cameraphones similarly cause fear in some today because of the omnipresence of the lens; in both cases, areas that may have been previously free of imaging devices are now open to them, if for no other reason than people are carrying cameras around in their pockets.

It's amazing to see the backlash against cameraphones be so strong and so similar to the Kodak's introduction all those years ago, given the fact that the leap from disposable film cameras and digital cameras to cameraphones really isn't all that great. But what does this say about the integration and acceptance of cameraphones in this day and age?

Beaches were off-limits to cameras back in the 1880s, but now it's a given that when someone goes to the beach, they'll end up in the background of somebody's vacation pictures. Does this mean that it will be at some point become acceptable for somebody to take pictures with a cameraphone in the locker room? That's doubtful, but maybe it will make the rest of us just a little bit more paranoid about being caught on film -- just like those bemoaning being caught in the act of "hilariousness" 100 years back.