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The Politics of Doorbells

Privacy, technology, politeness, and caution in the age of Instagram

A friend asked: Has anybody caught you taking pics of their door buzzer? And if you do get caught, how would you explain yourself?

I answered: One person has. I was taking the photo one morning of the buzzer at a generic, undistinguished apartment building. Someone was backing their car out of the multi-tenant garage. The person for some reason got out of their car before it was fully backed out, I think maybe to see if anyone was walking on the sidewalk, and then saw me. Instantly I was asked, quite anxiously, “What do you think you’re doing?” The person was upset. I looked back and said, “I’m taking a picture of the doorbell.” The person instantly calmed and said, “Oh, OK. Thanks. Have a good day.” I have some rules about the doorbells I photograph, and among them are anonymity — not only do I never post photos that show clearly evident names, I don’t even take photos of doorbells that have identifiable names clearly on them. The second rule is addresses. If the full address is on it, I don’t take the picture. Those two rules alone keep at bay a lot of the interpersonal weirdness (the perceived invasion of privacy in taking a picture of something that by definition is fully public). I’m also pretty careful that no one is watching when I do it. That morning when the driver got upset with me was a bad call on my part. The garage door was already open. I should have seen that coming.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
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    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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