The new iPhones, Apple announced yesterday, will be set by default to automatically record a constant stream of sound and video whenever the camera app is in use, without the user pressing the shutter button and even if the camera isn’t set to take video.
A still photo captures an instant frozen in time. With Live Photos, you can turn those instants into unforgettable living memories. At the heart of a Live Photo is a beautiful 12‑megapixel photo. But together with that photo are the moments just before and after it was taken, captured with movement and sound.
The only way the iPhone can preserve the sights and sounds from the moments before you’ve pressed the shutter is if it is already recording everything it sees and hears.
Anyone who’s recorded Vines knows that the world is full of incidental sounds you would rather not record and share—snippets of conversation, especially. It’s hard enough working around those when you’re shooting video. Now the iPhone will grab them while you’re focused on shooting a still image.
But you’re not supposed to think about what your phone is capturing. Your phone will take over the job of thinking.
This is a natural extension of Apple’s contempt for, and interference with, the user’s individual choice and judgment. It’s why iTunes went from a simple player that helped index your music to a bloated and confounding mess that will more readily select your music for you, or try to sell you new music, than let you play your own music.
Now Apple is rejecting the basic concept of photography, the photographer’s decision to capture a single image in time. To you or me, a photograph may be a work in a global medium, understood by all, with a rich tradition and discipline behind it. To Apple it’s an inefficient approximation of the “unforgettable living memories” that can be captured by a pocket computer through automated surveillance.
Several generations of technology ago, people invented a prank in which they would exploit the video function on their digital cameras by convincing other people to pose for a snapshot, only to shoot footage of their victims staring patiently and awkwardly into the already-recording lens. Now the same switcheroo is supposed to produce a more meaningful and desirable product than a proper photo.
As usual, Apple didn’t invent the underlying function; what Apple did was find a way to copy and repackage an invention—in this case, by turning it into the default mode, gathering up unintended sights and sounds. (It’s also, incidentally, replacing simple image files with bigger chunks of video, on phones that still offer a paltry 16 GB with entry-level models.)
Inside the airlocks of tech culture, where new features are considered only on their own terms, this is no big deal. The involuntary recording will have to be constantly erased, after all, as long as the shutter goes unpressed. Lots of apps are spying on you at least as much as Live Photo will, harvesting your location and activity data for their own purposes. By the standards of what’s already going on in the phone you already have, Live Photo is an incremental change.
But that attitude is exactly why we live in a world where most every app is busily tracking where you go and paging through your contacts and looting whatever other personal information it can. Is it a good idea to automatically store recordings of the user’s surroundings whenever they snap a picture? Would the users want to record it all, if you asked them? It doesn’t matter: If you don’t ask the users, the question doesn’t exist.
[Image by Jim Cooke]