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Cornell University Library
Cornell University Library

See How Yearbook Photos Have Evolved Over the Past Century

Cornell University Library
Cornell University Library

High school picture day is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. And while the basic formula of a front-facing pose against a neutral background hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years or so, facial expressions certainly have. For a better look at the similarities and differences between yearbook photos through the decades, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley recently compiled data on tens of thousands of images from the past 110 years [PDF].

The team's research marks one the first times machine-learning algorithms have been used to mine historic data from a collection of photographs. The high school yearbook photos were gathered from the digital databases of local libraries across the U.S. After downloading 150,000 pictures, the team eliminated all the photographs that weren’t front-facing portraits, leaving them with 37,000 samples from over 800 yearbooks from 26 states.

Next, they generated an “average” image for the men and women of each decade. By superimposing the groups of portraits together, they were able to then identify any trends exhibited in the composite images. One of the more interesting changes these pictures showed was the evolution of the subjects’ smiles.

When photography was still gaining popularity at the turn of the 20th century, it was normal for people to adopt a neutral expression for their portraits. According to the authors of the study, the earlier expressions might were partly a product of the beauty standards of the time: "Etiquette and beauty standards dictated that the mouth be kept small—resulting in an instruction to 'say prunes' (rather than cheese) when a photograph was being taken." (Not, it should be noted, due to long exposure times. By the late 19th century, innovations in photography had cut exposure time down to mere seconds.) 

As the 20th century wore on, the classic posed smile we adopt today began to emerge. An algorithm measuring the yearbook photos' shifting degrees of lip curvature supports this, and the trend can also be clearly observed in the composite images. Notably, this was around the same time that Kodak began releasing advertisements of happy people "smiling for the camera." The authors of the paper suggest this had a significant impact on how people chose to pose for their pictures.

The process also revealed data-backed proof of shifting trends in other areas, such as average hairstyles for each decade. While women of the '30s rocked finger waves, pin curls dominated the '40s and '50s, Afros took over in the '70s, and perms and bangs had their moment in the '80s and '90s. The data the team gathered on the progress of male fashion was slightly less interesting: men have been wearing standard suits in their high school yearbook pictures for over a century. 

Images Courtesy of the Cornell University Library.

[h/t: MIT Technology Review]

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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New Pop-Up Museum in Maryland Looks at What It's Like Being a Teen Today
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Museums across America explore everything from break-ups to the human urinary tract system. Now, The Washington Post reports that a group of Maryland high school students have launched a pop-up museum dedicated to the modern teenage experience—selfies, schoolwork, and social pressures included.

Located in a vacant restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, the Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers (MoCAT)—which is set to run from December 6 to December 9, and again from December 14 to December 16—is primarily organized by students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Organizers believe it’s the first project of its kind to explore teen identity and culture.

Displays at MoCAT, which received funding through donations and crowdsourcing, will include murals, 30 exhibits, live performances, and 150 “selfie” sculptures molded from clay. Exhibition themes are slated to change daily, and cover topics that run the gamut from unrealistic body image expectations to smartphone addiction and college application stress. Others are more political in nature, examining everything from fear of gun violence to shifting gender norms.

The MoCAT isn’t intended to be permanent, as it’s located inside the future sight of Marriott’s new headquarters. But according to The Washington Post, the students say they’d love to see the initiative eventually gain new life as a traveling exhibition featuring contributions from teens around America.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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