What do Facebook and Youtube have in common with 19th century cameras?

Many of us may worry that less than flattering images about ourselves will find their way to Facebook or Youtube. I know I do. After all, most people have a camera on them, all the time (their phones). And it only takes a few clicks to post a picture or video online.


So, it was with a certain sense of amusement, and déjà vu, that I read about attitudes to portable cameras, at the end of 19th century.


(Image source)

You can read the full report here, but let me highlight the following extracts:

With the introduction of the portable camera, suddenly photography was everywhere. People took their cameras outside to parks, beaches, and fairs. These amateur photographers were captivated by the newfound ability to capture everyday motion, candid photos, and “snap shots.” Because of the relatively low price, convenience, and simplicity of the Kodak, photography became a fixture of American culture, leading the Chicago Tribune to proclaim in 1897, “The craze is spreading fearfully. Chicago has had many fads whose careers have been brilliant but brief. But when amateur photography came, it came to stay.”


With so many people carrying around cameras, people became concerned that their picture would be taken without permission. The media grabbed hold of this fear. In the summer of 1888, one newspaper, the Hartford Courant, wrote the following: “Beware the Kodak. 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.” Suddenly, people feared that cameras threatened their privacy and reputation.


Even President Theodore Roosevelt upbraided this use of the technology, telling a boy who tried to take his picture during his first week in office, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Yet today most Americans carry pocket-sized devices with cameras everywhere they go and no one gives it a second thought.


There you go… the technology may change. But the concerns remain pretty much the same. People just find ways of coping in the new environment.


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