How a cam­era turns peo­ple into KAMIKAZE PI­LOTS

iD magazine - - Technology -

Wing­suit pi­lot Uli Emanuele had been train­ing for three years, prac­tic­ing his jumps and aerial move­ments, be­fore fi­nally at­tempt­ing a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble feat. Equipped with two Gopros and his wing­suit, the 29-year-old plunges off of a cliff in the Lauter­brun­nen Val­ley in Switzer­land—and, af­ter a few hun­dred yards, flies through a 8.8-foot-wide hole in the rock at 100 mph. The im­ages that go out around the world serve to doc­u­ment a trend: Wing­suit pi­lots are hurtling closer and closer to cliffs and moun­tains in their quest to shock the pub­lic. BASE jumper Pál Takáts ad­mits that he has some­times been more ad­ven­tur­ous than he would’ve or­di­nar­ily dared to be— be­cause he knew the cam­eras were rolling. “Be­fore ev­ery ma­neu­ver, you should ask your­self, ‘ Would I do this if the cam­era weren’t on?’”

David Holmes has done it. His video has now got­ten more than 2.6 mil­lion views on Youtube. It has be­come a viral hit across the In­ter­net, hav­ing been shared and liked thou­sands of times. The HD im­ages of Holmes’s dare­devil mo­tor­cy­cle ride, in­clud­ing high-speed over­tak­ing ma­neu­vers filmed from the rider’s per­spec­tive, look like a com­puter rac­ing game. A Gopro cam­era on his hel­met makes it pos­si­ble. But Holmes him­self has never ac­tu­ally watched the video. That’s be­cause it doesn’t just show the 38-year- old rac­ing through the coun­try­side on a high­way in the UK, it also shows a car sud­denly turn­ing from an op­pos­ing lane of traf­fic in front of him and cut­ting off his path. Frac­tions of sec­ond later, Holmes is film­ing his own death…


More than 10 mil­lion peo­ple have strapped a so-called ac­tion cam to their head, chest, car, or mo­tor­bike. Their hands re­main free as the tiny cam­era cap­tures very clear im­ages whether one is div­ing with sharks, parachut­ing, driv­ing a car, or even fight­ing on the world’s bat­tle­fields. “Be a hero”—that’s the motto with which Gopro ad­ver­tises its mod­els. Now for $129 ev­ery­one can be the ac­tion di­rec­tor of his or her own life. Even en­try-level ac­tion cam mod­els record video footage in HD qual­ity. They are like a third eye, ar­chiv­ing and stor­ing all that’s ex­pe­ri­enced. There is also the sound­track of the wind rush­ing past your face, of your breath­ing or your pan­icked yelling— as was the case with David Holmes, whose Gopro cap­tured high-qual­ity footage of him rac­ing into a turn­ing ve­hi­cle be­fore be­ing flung from his mo­tor­cy­cle and hit­ting the as­phalt.

Dozens of record­ings of peo­ple who’ve ended up film­ing their own death with an ac­tion cam are now cir­cu­lat­ing on the In­ter­net. There is dis­turb­ing footage of BASE jumpers be­ing smashed against rock walls, of sol­diers be­ing killed in a fire­fight, and divers get­ting killed by sharks. Only their wa­ter- and shock­proof cam­eras re­main in­tact. There are far more videos of the near-tragedies— filmed from the per­spec­tive of those af­fected. But is there a con­nec­tion be­tween the in­creas­ing de­mand for ac­tion cam­eras and the in­creas­ingly dar­ing stunts that peo­ple are film­ing them­selves per­form­ing? Are Gopro & Co. ma­nip­u­lat­ing our be­hav­ior? And what are the con­se­quences of al­most ev­ery mo­ment of a per­son’s life be­ing recorded?


BASE jump­ing, rooftop­ping ( be­ing on tall build­ings), surf­ing—all types of ex­treme sport ben­e­fit from th­ese new ac­tion cams. The rea­son: While the pro­fes­sional cam­era crews with heavy equip­ment can’t eas­ily climb up a build­ing or head into the waves and would have to rent ex­pen­sive he­li­copter squadrons to get their shots, ex­treme ath­letes can cap­ture per­fect HD shots al­most ef­fort­lessly with their match­box-size cam­eras.

At the same time, the videos and pho­tos on the In­ter­net show that the cam­eras en­cour­age their users to per­form ever-more-reck­less stunts. Even Gopro founder and CEO Nick Wood­man ad­mits: “Film­ing your­self do­ing rad things is an ego booster. It gets a per­son ad­dicted to mak­ing new record­ings.” And BASE jumper Pál Takáts warns: “The fact that so many peo­ple can see their videos on the Web pushes the ath­letes on. They al­ways want to try new, more ex­treme stuff. This means they take risks that they shouldn’t be tak­ing.” In­deed, many wing­suit pi­lots fly as close to rock faces as pos­si­ble for the thrill of their au­di­ence—which we get to see, thanks to ac­tion cams. And so a com­pe­ti­tion has emerged on­line: Who has the best videos, the new­est per­spec­tives—who is will­ing to risk it all? “Al­ways look­ing straight ahead is not in­ter­est­ing to any­one,” ob­serves ex­treme skier Se­bas­tian Abend­schön. “You want footage no one else has, which means push­ing your­self ever closer to your lim­its.”

An­other at­tribute is par­tic­u­larly preva­lent among ama­teurs—that is,

around 99% of ex­treme ath­letes: Most watch th­ese videos from the com­fort of their couch. They want to im­i­tate what they see and end up un­der­es­ti­mat­ing what pro­fes­sion­als have spent years train­ing to achieve. What’s more, Gopro & Co. reg­u­larly hold com­pe­ti­tions in their net­works and ask users to send in videos of the most ex­treme stunts pos­si­ble— the dark side of one of the big­gest rev­o­lu­tions in pho­to­graphic his­tory.

The in­va­sion of the ac­tion cams hasn’t just af­fected ex­treme sports. An im­pact is also be­ing ex­erted on ev­ery­day life. And in court…


At the last sec­ond Amy Miller* is able to cau­tion a young man who ab­sent­mind­edly steps into the road. The cy­clist avoids him just in time. That could have been much worse, she thinks. But just a short dis­tance away the same man sud­denly runs up be­side her, shouts in­sults at her and then pushes her off her bi­cy­cle with full force into on­com­ing traf­fic be­fore run­ning away from the scene. What the at­tacker didn’t no­tice in his rage: a Gopro on Amy’s hel­met.

A few hours later, Josh Part­ley* gets the first calls from his friends. They’re ask­ing him what he’s done and send him a link—and an image from the In­ter­net. The link takes him to video from Amy Miller’s cam­era. The cy­clist handed it right over to Lon­don’s Metropoli­tan Po­lice af­ter the at­tack, and of­fi­cials im­me­di­ately pub­lished the video on the In­ter­net. The po­lice added a mes­sage un­der a still image of Part­ley’s an­gry face: “Do you know this man?” It dawns on Part­ley that he can’t es­cape his new­found no­to­ri­ety. That same day he turns him­self in to the au­thor­i­ties and makes a con­fes­sion.

Pri­vate videos as ev­i­dence—for Lewis De­di­are, this is an ev­ery­day state of af­fairs. The moun­tain biker is equipped with eight ac­tion cams as he rides around Lon­don film­ing traf­fic of­fenses and then pass­ing the videos on to the po­lice. Ev­ery day mo­torists in Lon­don get fines or even have to give up their li­cense be­cause De­di­are has filmed them. Some peo­ple hate him, while oth­ers re­gard him as a hero.

In fact, record­ings like the ones made by De­di­are are in­creas­ingly be­ing used as ev­i­dence in crim­i­nal court cases. So it’s no won­der that thou­sands of peo­ple roam around big ci­ties such as Lon­don and New York each day with ac­tion cam­eras, film­ing ev­ery­thing they en­counter. Hardly any an­gle goes un­cap­tured, li­cense plates and faces are vis­i­ble. But le­gal ex­perts warn: While ac­tion cams can help solve crimes, they’re also a mile­stone for the ex­pan­sion of the sur­veil­lance state.

Ac­tion cams are also ben­e­fit­ting more and more of the world’s po­lice forces. Thou­sands of of­fi­cers wear a de­vice that records all that takes place dur­ing a traf­fic stop or raid. And in the mil­i­tary al­most ev­ery unit is equipped with a cam­era. Hel­met cam­eras doc­u­ment op­er­a­tions and help su­pe­ri­ors an­a­lyze how sol­diers and en­emy com­bat­ants be­have.

The fact is: Out on the bat­tle­field, in traf­fic, while div­ing or parachut­ing or un­der­tak­ing an ex­pe­di­tion to the Antarc­tic or the desert—within a few years ac­tion cams have con­quered al­most ev­ery as­pect of mod­ern life. They pro­vide an un­cen­sored look at life and death—al­ways in HD qual­ity. Wel­come to Planet Gopro…

“FILM­ING YOUR­SELF BOOSTS THE EGO– AND IS AD­DIC­TIVE!” Nick Wood­man, founder and CEO of Gopro

FILM OF HIS OWN DEATH “Whoa!” yells David Holmes as he races into a car at 97 mph. The mo­tor­cy­clist was killed in­stantly. The Gopro cam­era mounted to his hel­met filmed ev­ery­thing. Holmes’s mother de­cided to put the video on­line to en­cour­age both driv­ers and riders to prac­tice road safety.

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