Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sousveillance Blog: Free the Cyborg!

Sousveillance Blog: Shooting Back Means Shooting Back
My favourite cyborg Steve Mann has a link from to a new sousveillance blog based in New York. Questions: is this trend verging on paranoia? The writer suggests with a bit of hyperbole and neologism that we could be in extreme danger: "could we transition in real time into a terrorocracy if we are not careful of how the mass main stream media can manipulate us."

I really have doubts about the extremity of the position. Of course we are manipulated by other people's language, knowledge, and power, but when has society ever been different?

The statement "If knowledge begins to be segregated into a knowing class, and an unknowing citizenry, we enter a new age serfdom of grave consequences" seems ignorant of history. If ever there was knowledge, there was also a knowing class and an unknowing citizenry. Is this kind of rhetoric merely nostalgic for a time that never was?

He's got a point--surveillance technology is sophisticated, and certainly some freedoms are curtailed if you're being watched by an electronic eye--but to call the system "Big Brother," as this writer does, makes me wonder if fictional scenarios of fear are informing this rationale of resistance.

The question, for me, comes down to whether technologies of surveillance and of mass communication are the evils in our society, or whether it just makes it easier to do what humans "naturally" do in communities: they spy on each other and keep tabs on each other; they tell each other how to think, what to think.

"How do we maintain freedom and democracy in the modern world. We cannot reverse the clock and un invent the printing press nor the computer: we cannot either prevent systems of surveillance being integrated into our whole world. As citizens, we will have to become more engaged and more connected with both real and virtual communities to maintain freedom, compassion, and the truth. We will have to build sousveillance teams to keep large institutions in check to prevent a collective denial prior to a complete loss of freedom. We sould keep the darpa police state in complete balance....The powers that be will feel uncomfortable about citizens being logical and rational."

I don't know. No matter what technology we have, people will continue to be assholes, sweeties, and schmucks, compassionate and empathetic, and nasty and manipulative. And yet it's true that resistance is a necessary and powerful aspect of living in a democratic country. It's also true that technology enhances the efficiency of being a nasty asshole.


Blogger Meshon said...

I usually buy into the paranoia, but you're raising some points I've never really considered, specifically, is this new? The change I see is one of scale, but perhaps it isn't that either. I was going to talk about how a serf would likely have been aware of events in his or her village, and learned how to deal with and think about those events from the church. For things that happened outside one's immediate surroundings, you had a feudal lord who would sort out the politics. Now our awareness extends to a global village and mass media generally does the interpreting.

And then I realized that even the scale hasn't changed.

Things that happen far away are still generally outside the average person's sphere of awareness, and, from what I can see and tell from personal experience, most people are content to let the people that deal with that stuff do their thing. Who are those people? Well, you know, the government... and... them. Ummm, the powers that be? They know what they're doing, they'll take care of me..

6:50 PM  
Blogger Meshon said...

The idea of scale is still bugging me. Maybe there isn't a general desire to be globally aware, but I think that there is an illusion of awareness being provided by mass communications media. It's apparently very easy to believe that I am informed about the world when I see it in moving colour pictures and the ostensibly neutral reporter is telling me what those pictures mean, what to think about them, and how to fit them into my world-view.

The part of this that worries me is that a very few people can pretty much decide what millions will think. That's why most people still call it a democracy.

"And terror alerts climbed to the highest in the past two weeks today as Senator Kerry flip flops on defense. Steve?"
"Well, Mike, it could be worse, we could be living in Venezuela. At least we live in a free and democratic nation."
"That's right Steve! Goodnight, America, and thanks for watching. Fox News, real and balanced."
And 10 million television viewers whisper back at the screen, "Free and democratic, real and balanced."

A terrorocracy? Sure. Rule by those who can instill terror. It's just being done in an oblique way. We aren't afraid of the politicians, we're afraid of the people they tell us to be afraid of. I have a friend in the States who grimly watches the effects of the terror alerts and threat warnings as they swing wildly across the hotter side of the spectrum. It's crazy down there.

Note: I point my comments at the US because it's easy. I'm still convinced Paul Martin is taking advantage of the fact that my attention is focused elsewhere.

7:17 PM  

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