Surveillance of Children in the Human Speechome Project. Is There A Parallel with the Role of Social Media in Society?

Surveillance, Querral, Wikimedia Commons, GNU FD License

The Human Speechome Project is a research project to understand the development of human speech. One of the lead researchers Professor Deb Roy installed monitoring equipment in his house to capture every sound and image that his newborn son was exposed to in the first few years of  his life. Although I’m intrigued by the scientific insights this might provide this is more than counterbalanced by my unease at reading this as for me it raises many boundary issues – for instance the difference between scientist and parental roles. This also reminds me of a film ‘The Truman Show‘ featuring Jim Carrey. There are big differences though. For instance Carrey’s character is misled by those around him and this takes place well into adulthood but the film raises interesting questions about the role of the media and surveillance in modern society preempting the rise of social media. There is a trailer below as well as a review of the film which is well worth listening to.

Returning to the study, the researchers installed fish-eye cameras and microphones throughout the house recording even ambient sounds. They recorded for up to 10 hours a day and by the end of the study had over 140,000 hours of material which took up 200,000 Terabytes of data. This data is now being analysed. They are also planning to recruit other children to gain insights into later stages of development. Although there are potentially useful scientific insights to be gained from this research, it also raises questions about intrusion into privacy at an age where it is necessary for the parent to act on the child’s behalf and it will be interesting to see the media response as the study develops.

This parallels the less intensive but increasing use of social media in all segments of society where children’s use of Facebook and other media encourage them to live part of their lives for an audience and to have less private lives. The implications are unclear and perhaps the Human Speechome Project offers a useful starting point for debate whilst the larger scientific aims of the study are being pursued.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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