Invasion of the cell phones?

Smile, you're on Candid Camera!
- Allen Funt

Back in 1981, a Coca-Cola bottle dropped from the window of a plane caused undue havoc for a tribe of African Bushmen. Those of you shouting "The Gods Must Be Crazy" are correct. The run-away hit was, among other things, the story of how people react to new technologies. This movie came to mind when a client contacted me recently. Her health club had banned cellular telephones in the locker rooms. This action was a pre-emptive strike on the part of the health club to prevent members from being photographed while changing. Yes, there was always the hypothetical threat of someone with a spy camera infiltrating the locker room to take pictures, but this technology was expensive and somewhat difficult to obtain. Cell phones, on the other hand, are sold on almost every street corner and mall in America. While no one would pull out a camera in a locker room, a cell phone was, up until now, a common sight. But now that cellular telephones have the ability to take pictures, don't be surprised if the person at the locker next to you becomes wary should you attempt to use one.

Luckily, as I am fond of saying, etiquette evolves to keep pace with technology.

Look at the View ~ Just like your image may be unintentionally caught in the viewfinder of a tourist's camera, when you are not the subject of the picture -- but rather part of the scenery -- the taker does not need your permission.

Always Ask ~ Just as you would (or should) ask someone's permission before taking a conventional picture, you should always do the same before taking a picture with your cell phone.

Public versus Private ~ We already know how upsetting celebrities find the paparazzi. Now we can be upset just like celebrities when our privacy is violated and our picture is taken without permission. It is one thing to inadvertently walk into someone else's picture. It is quite another to be dining in a restaurant, changing in a locker room or attending a lecture while our picture is being taken unbeknownst to us. While these places (and those like them) are open to the public, they do require a polite "May I take your picture?" before snapping away.

User Friendly ~ Of course, a serious issue concerning a covertly taken picture is one of intent. There is quite a difference between finding your way into a tourist's photo album and having your image used for commercial gain or used in a scandalous way. If you are the victim of such guerilla photography, contact your attorney. While the technology is new, laws for slander, libel, defamation and protection of privacy have been on the books for years.

By this time, most people have seen the wretched commercial where a young woman takes a picture of a hapless young man in a diner and sends it to a friend with the sarcastic message "Don't you love your new boyfriend?" Even though he is an actor, my heart goes out to him. He is the subject of a cruel joke played by two pretentious and shallow young women. This commercial reminds me of when explorers and adventures would try to take pictures of natives. The natives often reacted to the technology with scorn as they felt that the picture, a reflection of themselves, would steal their soul. Reviewing the cellular telephone cameras of today, I cannot help but agree. Taking a picture of someone without their knowledge or permission is an invasion of privacy, and in so doing, may just steal a bit of their soul.