I’ve been known to trumpet the viral power of a video that shows the viewer something they’ve never seen before.  Acts of great physical ability or eye-popping talent have a way of going viral faster than almost any other variety.  And now that theory is about to be put to the test by an enterprising artist and professor named Wafaa Bilal.

Bilal is a photography professor at New York University.  He’s also an established artist—he won acclaim in 2007 for a project called “Domestic Tension,” which allowed web users to fire paint balls at him remotely.

His latest project is called The 3rd I, and it sounds like a science fiction movie:  Bilal has surgically implanted a camera on the back of his skull.  Yikes!  The camera is the size of a thumb, and runs cables to a laptop he will carry around with him at all times.  And I can’t help but wonder aloud why wireless cameras weren’t considered, but I’m guessing he was probably worried about connectivity issues interrupting the project.

He’ll collect still images of whatever happens to be going on behind him—spaced one minute apart—for an entire year.  Double yikes!  (Why do I get the feeling that many of these images will contain his students making faces and bunny ears behind their professor’s back?)  The images will then be pared down and compiled together for a museum show at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.

Says the artist:

“This will expose the unspoken conditions we face. A project like this is meant to establish a dialogue about surveillance.”

Well, it’ll start some dialogue, that’s for sure.  Why?  Because no one’s ever done this before.  This is one of those rare projects where the end result (the compiled images) doesn’t matter nearly as much as the concept itself.  People will be curious enough to see the finished product that it almost won’t matter if it’s underwhelming.  Because hey… no one’s ever done this before.

It’s a little like Justin.TV, in my mind.  When he started live-streaming his life, there was a lot of initial interest—because again, it had never been done.  Over time, some of that interest died down.  However, let’s not be too hasty in declaring that experiment a failure.  It produced the term “lifecasting,” for instance, and also led to the formation of a new company—Justin.TV now lets users create channels and broadcast live streaming video.  So even if Justin’s original lifecast wasn’t earth-shattering, the concept he invented was.  What was considered strange and unnecessary when he started became a marketable business model, all because he took a unique idea and implemented it despite the apparent uselessness of it.

Could Bilal’s project do the same thing?  Sure.   Though I doubt we’re anywhere close to average citizens having cameras literally bolted to their head.  That being said, we’re already close to the kind of personal surveillance this project suggests.  There are already competing lines of cameras embedded in eyeglasses, which allow you to record your immediate surroundings and upload to a PC or Mac.

This project calls to mind questions we’ve all probably asked before: What actions have I taken that have possibly been captured on film?  Are we heading for a time when we simply expect that every moment outside our own homes is caught by a camera of some sort?  Pretty interesting stuff if you ask me.

Don’t underestimate the power of a completely innovative idea.  Whether you produce video content or some other variety, being the first to do something will forever give you an inside track to publicity and media attention.  Of course, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead, so that you have some way in mind to capitalize on that attention.