Socio-technical perspectives on digital photography: Scientific digital photography use by marine mammal researchers
- This graduate work has been published as open access. Learn more... - this link will open in a new window
This dissertation examines the intersection between technology and scientific practice for marine mammal scientists who use digital photography. Scientists studying marine mammals use a technique called photo-identification to identify individual animals such as whales and dolphins in the wild. This technique involves photographing the animals, and later matching these images to catalogs of previously sighted and identified individual animals. This information then contributes to understanding the population parameters, behaviors, and other information about the animals. These methods have been in widespread use since the 1970s; recently, however, most scientists in this field have switched from film photography to digital photography.
This research demonstrates that this change, which seems at first glance to be a simple matter of swapping one three-pound piece of equipment loaded with film for another similar looking three-pound piece of equipment equipped with a digital sensor and computer memory cards, has had important consequences throughout this scientific domain. Some of these consequences were intended, others were unintended. Among the unintended consequences, some are positive, some are negative, and some are still being negotiated. The consequences range from the benefit of having instant feedback in the field, which improves accuracy and efficiency in the data collection process, to the cost of dealing with the increasingly complex information systems needed to work with the large flow of information through the labs.
Digital photography has rapidly replaced film photography in many domains over the last decade. Even though digital cameras are becoming nearly ubiquitous in every domain where photography plays and important role, however, very little research has attempted to understand the socio-technical nature of digital photography and what the consequences are of this change. This social informatics study uses Kling's Socio-Technical Interaction Networks (STIN) strategy to analyze the regular uses of digital photography within this scientific field, and to understand the consequences of this technology for the practice of science. The research involved interviews and observations of 41 scientists working at thirteen laboratories, plus the analysis of supporting documents.