Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Village Voice article on "Sousveillance"

village voice > news > The 21st-Century Peep Show by Kathryn Belgiorno
: Is sousveillance powerful activism or vigilantism? This article discusses the practice of online opprobrium ranging from the infamous Abu Graib photos that exposed military abuses, to the oh-so-sad story of Dog Poop Girl in Seoul, Korea.
"The power derived from witnessing, documenting—invading privacy even just a bit—is typically associated with the federal government, the NYPD, and big corporations, Carter points out. Holla Back, says Carter, demonstrates that 'you can fight the oppressive network of surveillance by documenting things yourself. . . . We all can walk around with cameras as opposed to cops or government having them in the city.'"

"There's a term in academia for the practice Carter describes—University of Toronto engineering professor Steve Mann coined it to mean the opposite of surveillance. 'Sousveillance' is looking from below, turning the lens on the higher-ups, altering the power dynamic. For techie futurist types like Mann, the camera phone is just one stop on a fast train to the cameras all citizens will eventually wear on their heads, eyeglass-style; The Transparent Society author David Brin calls these devices 'rodney kings.'"

"...One well-publicized example of citizen-on-citizen sousveillance—the event that inspired seven activists to create Holla Back—occurred when a Manhattan raw-food restaurateur was camera-phoned mid-masturbation on the subway last August by a woman who then posted the photo online. After the man was subsequently identified, one blogger wrote, 'It's also good to see the Big Brother phenomenon (cameras everywhere you look) working out in the average citizen's favor for once . . . . What do you mean they're useless?! They can solve crimes!!'"


Blogger Allison Muri said...

...but this response seems unnecessarily negative. There is no such thing as the "ideals of the Enlightenment" insofar as every philosopher had his own agenda and his own ideals, some of which were idealistic, forward-looking, and some of which were misguided. Some of these goals and ideals were shared with others, and some were eccentric and unique. Moreover, I really don't think technology has the final power to limit memory or to eradicate culture, or to eliminate freedom. Wherever it threatens freedom or culture, people also find ways to use it to find freedom and to express honesty and good will. Technologies tend to express the ordinary nastiness and the ordinary goodness that people have had since they transmitted their stories orally.

Think for example of Beowulf: a story about a hero going and eradicating something nasty from his society. The story demands a few violent clashes, but then order is temporarily restored when the hero prevails and the society is no longer victimized (until the next monster or war comes along). What those people commenting on the subway masturbator have wanted is a story about the bad guy getting his just desserts.

The happy "conclusion" is documented on BoingBoing: the cover of the Daily News reads: "EXPOSED! Brave subway flasher victim turns tables and snaps picture of perv suspect." It's a less violent version of denouement and closure than the stories of earlier times.

10:31 AM  

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