Tummino Field Test: Autographer

As I elaborated on in my first blog post, I wanted to conduct a field test using the Autographer to measure news engagement. To refresh everyone, the Autographer is a small wearable camera which automatically takes pictures of things it deems interesting. The device determines what is “interesting” based on sensors which can detect changes in POV, temperature, or lighting. I was very intrigued at the fact that the camera renders the human decision-making process obsolete in taking a picture. This means true candid moments can be captured by the camera.

So, I constructed an experiment by which I could use the Autographer to see how engaged someone is with a TV news program or with online news websites. Right now, news engagement is a hot topic in the world of journalism, especially with regards to online journalism, with many people trying to figure out how to measure it. It is also an issue in broadcast journalism — just because the news was the program that was on a TV in a home doesn’t mean anyone was watching it and absorbing the content. Thus, the field test involving the Autographer is meant to see if people are really paying attention when they are consuming television or online news.

For the experiment, I had one person watch TV news for 10 minutes and surf online news for 10 minutes while wearing the Autographer. I told the person to watch the TV newscast when he wanted to and not watch when he didn’t feel like it or was bored. Then, I told the person to look at online news when he wanted to, but let him know he could do whatever he wanted online if the news bored him. This way, I would be able to see in the pictures if he was looking at the news or looking elsewhere. I hypothesized that the person would be more engaged with TV than online because there are more chances a person gets distracted if reading news online.

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The camera was placed inside a winter hat the person was wearing, which kept the camera at eye level. However, it was on the side of his head. This meant that any picture where the TV is in the very right of the frame means the person was engaged with the news and actively watching the program.

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Conversely, it meant that when the TV was in the middle of the frame, the person’s head was turned to the right or left. In the case of the picture above, the person was not paying attention to the program, instead looking at something on his phone.

Overall, of the 50 pictures that the Autographer took while the person watched the news for 10 minutes, only 7 suggested that the person wasn’t engaged with the news.

As far as online is concerned, the results were actually far more encouraging than I thought they would be.

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For these pictures, engagement would be shown if the computer was in the bottom right corner of the photo (like in the photo above) and a news article was up on the screen. Surprisingly, in all 40 photos taken by the Autographer while the person was online, all of them show engagement. The person spent the entire 10 minutes surfing CNN.com without taking a break to check fantasy football or Facebook. This essentially proved my original hypothesis wrong, as the person was seemingly more engaged with online news than TV news, although engagement levels with both media were very high.

Concerning the merits of using the Autographer for an experiment such as this one, I thought it did the job it set out to do. The camera works great as far as taking a lot of candid shots. It also got the TV and computer in the frame for all photos, so that was good. My two biggest complaints are as follows:

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1. The fish eye lens – I don’t understand why the camera can’t just be a normal camera, like the type that are in iPhones. I don’t like how the lens curves the picture into looking like a globe. It distorts the image and in this case emphasizes a very extraneous part of the frame.

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2. The overexposure to bright screens – This didn’t matter as much with the TV (although it was notable in multiple photos), but it was a persistent problem with the photos of the computer. In the case of the picture above, I am unable to tell what the person is looking at on the computer, which is very problematic for an experiment where part of the results depend on knowing what’s up on the computer screen. I estimate that half the photos which the Autographer took during the online portion of the experiment came out overexposed.

In the end, whether or not this experiment has something meaningful about news engagement is not certain. The results do show that people can still engage with the news and truly watch/read it, but experimental variables could call into question the results. However, I do think the field test shows the Autographer — even with its flaws — can be used in unique ways in the field of journalism.

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