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Purikura as Pervasive Media

September 1, 2006 |

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Daisuke Okabe and I have been doing research on portable technologies for many years now, and we’ve enjoyed seeing how things have evolved. For as long as we’ve been studying mobile phones there has been much talk about location based services and the imminent convergence with the handheld computing space. There have been tantalizing glimpses at possiblliities with current talk about the geospatial web, google map mashups, geocaching, etc. etc. But Daisuke and I haven’t yet had anything meaty to sink our ethnographer’s teeth into as far as practices that are hugely popular among the young people we talk to in Tokyo. So we started to wonder if there were any examples of location based media technologies that were viral among youth, and had natural ties to the digital domain.

This situation led us to a study of Print Club (purikura) picture stickers, which have been a well-established feature of Japanese youth culture since the late nineties. Almost all high school girls we have spoken to say they will take purikura every time they are out on the town with a friend or a group of friends. Purikura rely on a location-based infrastructure of photo booths that are generally located at game centers and tourist spots. Although initially purikura were simple, low res photos printed onto a sticker sheet, now they have entered the digital age. The photo booths are like mini studios, with variable lighting, green screen, seating for large groups, bars to hang off of, and other variations. The booths also feature photo modding technologies accessed through a fun touch-screen interface. And most recently, booth manufacturers have enabled people to email their purikura from the booths to their mobile phones and PCs. Despite this push toward digital trafficking of purikura, they remain firmly grounded in paper-based media. Almost all high school girls will carry their puri-cho (purikura albums/scrapbooks) around with them as a materialization of their social network.

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This summer I did a field study with Daisuke, Jan Chipchase from Nokia, and Aico Shimizu who works with us at Keio. Jan and Aico trained Daisuke and I on techniques for doing spot interviews of people exiting purikura booths, which was a new kind of method for us. We also did our usual diary and depth interviews to round out the picture. And we had a bit of fun taking some purikura ourselves. The work is still in progress, but we’ve just finished a short position paper for the Pervasive Image Capture and Sharing workshop for Ubicomp 2006. Check it out if you are curious to know more about this image sharing practice.