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Chapt. 03: Control Society

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Chapt. 03

Control Society

Introduction

In this lecture, I will introduce the concept of ‘control society.’ We will examine the management of surveillance and privacy in contemporary time and space. In the end, I’ll ask if we can imagine a ‘New Weapon’ by subverting the mechanisms of surveillance.

You may be familiar with Michel Foucault’s critique of the panopticon, a structure where an all-seeing eye gazes at the subjects. There, the subjects cannot know if and when they are being watched.1 They internalize the surveillance and discipline. This architectural manifestation of surveillance became the predominant forms of prisons from the early nineteenth-century onward. Take, for example, Millbank Prison in London, a place that held prisoners before they were sent abroad. We can see from the floor plans that panopticons like these were not simply an architectural plan to maximize surveillance, but also a political statement for the sovereign. They were an instruction for the sovereign to exert its power and command subjects to become disciplined.

Foucault found the same disciplinary mechanisms in schools, factories, hospitals and armies. In these spaces, there were clear distinctions between things you could do and things you couldn’t do, and if you did the wrong thing, you’d get punished. But there were gaps between these spaces of discipline, unregulated and unorganized areas where ‘everyday life’ could take place. Imagine a Parisian cafe in the early 20th century, where creative writers would come and discuss the politics.2 There’s a romantic notion that authentic human relationships could flourish in these spaces that escaped regulation, spaces free from the confinement of rules.

However, contemporary society lacks such zones for free association as public spaces are turned into privately owned ones (i.e. community spaces being carefully converted into shopping malls) and mechanisms of surveillance proliferate. It’s not just that surveillance cameras are everywhere and workplaces are synchronized through high-speed internet, but our friends constantly and instantly share via devices their whereabouts and images as status updates on the social network. Is this a multiplication of surveillance?

It maybe no coincidence that about hundred years after the Millbank Prison, the spatial mechanics of panopticon were employed by the U.S government in the construction of the Pentagon in 1941. The Pentagon’s architectural design is basically a recursive panopticon. Its design reflects different layers of surveillance in tightly knit systems. In this myriad of panopticons, we find the core mechanics for the present day – a society of control.

Control

Gilles Deleuze offers his take on underlying contemporary mechanisms of public and private spaces in “Postscript on the Society of Control.”3 It is a special text that reads like an unassuming Anti-Manifesto for the Digital era. First, in his analysis, he associates late 19th-century capitalism with the disciplinary society just mentioned, which manifested in spaces such as schools, factories and prisons. To convey the character of a disciplinary society, Deleuze finds a metaphor in the mole, a small earthbound animal that makes mazes underground. The mole’s environment represents traditional capitalism, a hierarchical structure in which the mole builds its centralized dwelling. This hierarchy is presided over by a patriarchal figure who manages the distribution of labor among the workforce. The distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed is clear in disciplinary society because they occupy different spaces and functions.

Deleuze contrasts disciplinary society with ‘control society,’ associated with the 20th-century capitalism. He uses another metaphor, the serpent, or snake, to convey the systemic conditions that produce the self-contradicting bodies in a highly industrialized society. The serpent moves smoothly between the terrains, both above and underground. This movement represents free-flowing control mechanisms that operate both in and outside of traditionally defined capitalist spaces. With these metaphors, Deleuze encourages us to pay attention to the changing forms of power from discipline to control as we move from analog to digital, module to modulation, and from the barracks of a prison to stacks of code. As Deleuze remarks in “Postscript”:

The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.4

Code, here, means both computer programming languages and passwords. Code is the language and rules of a control society. How exactly does code become a form of power in a ‘society of control’? Alexander Galloway offers insight about the word ‘control,’ a term whose subtle meaning can easily be lost in translation:

Recall that the French contrôle carries stresses in meaning that are slightly different from the English control. Contrôle means control as in the power to influence people and things, but it also refers to the actual administration of control via particular monitoring apparatuses such as train turnstiles, border crossings, and checkpoints. The notion, in English, of having to pass through "passport control" gets at the deeper meaning of the word. So when Deleuze talks about les societes de contrôle he means those kinds of societies, or alternately those localized places within the social totality, where mobility is fostered inside certain strictures of motion, where openings appear rather than disappear, where subjects (or for that matter objects) are liberated as long as they adhere to a variety of prescribed comportments.5

The security screening and passport control in airports are key rituals in our ‘society of control.’ The same mechanism of control is at play whenever the movement of bodies is managed such that they can circulate but only in a circumscribed way. It’s not surprising Deleuze mentions the highway as another metaphor for control society. Highways, especially in popular culture with films like Easy Rider(1969), give the impression that one has the ability to go anywhere and decide where they want to be in the world. In reality, highways multiply the forms of control via policing, speed limits and checkpoints at every entrance and exit. Even in the rest areas where one can consume food and gas, credit card purchases are reported to financial institutions in real time. In a society of control, it’s unclear where the monitoring begins and ends as one’s complicity in systems of real-time tracking is built into the infrastructure. The term ‘control’ hints that Deleuze might have been inspired by William S. Burroughs 6 as well as cybernetics, the study of self-regulating systems sustained by a series of feedback loops. Cyberneticians, such as Nobert Wiener, found such self-regulating systems in machines, animals and humans alike.

We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.”7

What is meant by ‘dividuals’? While individuals are separate from each other, they are coherent entities unto themselves; ‘dividuals,’ on the other hand, are not only separate from others but also divided within themselves, split by the desire to oppress and the desire to resist. In the total surveilling environment, the question of “who is exploiting who?” cannot be answered easily, further promoting conflicting desires for exploitation and comradery. In the emptiness created by this division of self, in the ensuing emotional gap, companies take over.

Deleuze says corporations are like a gas and that companies have a soul. Consider the fact that many people anthropomorphize corporations – “Ask Google about something” or “We are Facebook friends” – or equate status updates with presence. Furthermore, technologies in societies of control promise extreme personalization. Machine interfaces, operating systems and content are designed to maximize individual addiction to communication. We communicate constantly and reside in a feedback loop comprised of likes, retweets and comment threads. We live for an ecstasy of communication. We dream of a seamless connectivity.

The continuousness of instant communications is integral to control society. Meanwhile, social networks produce profit by monetizing our attention span and emphatically blurring the boundary between work and leisure. These features are often experienced as convenience and pleasure, but there is a dark side to this. Let’s consider other ways we as individuals, or rather, as ‘dividuals,’ are impacted, managed and monitored by control society. First, let’s look at the idea of privacy. I'd like to give you about 5 minutes to think and write your definition of privacy.

Discussion

Taeyoon: Can we define privacy in our own words?

Student 1: For me I think the most important thing about privacy is that it functions as this kind of insulation from social norms that may be reactionary. So maybe you have some behaviors, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but people in society would consider them wrong for whatever reason. So privacy kind of allows for this bubble to act out those behaviors and be yourself in that sense. I see that as being important along two axes of development. It’s important for your own personal development, insofar as it gives you space to make mistakes without anybody holding you to them. It also affords you the space to develop ideas and practices that may be against the social norm but later might become the social norm. So you need this space insulated from judgement or control.

Student 2: I kind of say that exact same thing, but in three words. Those being personhood, boundaries, and seclusion. Essentially you have the ability to be something as a person, be yourself. The boundaries are between you and everything else in reality.

Student 3: I would like to add that there is a sense of control, because you are the rightful owner of whatever it is that you are doing or exploring and you are the only person who can then allow people into that world you’ve created for yourself. So there is a choice. It’s not just that you can have a secret, but that you can choose to keep something.

Francis Tseng(Special guest)8: Privacy for me is opacity, distance, reserve, attachment, the right not to be defined as a person via social networks; not being defined by your physical tastes or things you watch, this is privacy as well…

Student 5: Maybe privacy in the sense of what Francis is talking about, that it is a productive kind of thing. Privacy can be used to dig deep into seclusion, but privacy can be a creative thing that allows one the space to grow.

Student 3: I think we can also talk about how when you invoke privacy, that would be an intimate or vulnerable situation.

Taeyoon: I think of privacy as a human right more than anything else.

Francis: Then you have doctors in medicine, about how patients have the right to privacy. There is professional privacy that has to do with conduct.

Taeyoon: How about the privacy of families? For me, privacy comes down to the question of intimacy. What’s the role of technology in intimate relationship? How pervasive is technology in our daily life? And how do these technologies facilitate and enable the intimacies in our personal lives? Can we can have both intimacy and privacy, or do certain modes of communication (social media, smart phone messaging) risk forgoing privacy?

1Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Random House, 1975).

Reference Image G.P. Holford - G.P. Holford, An Account of Millbank Penitentiary (1828)
Reference Image 2George Plimpton, William Pène du Bois, Jane Lougee, and Christopher Logue from the Paris Review

3Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (1992): 3-7.

4Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control.”

5Alexander R Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital (United States: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 106

6 William S. Burroughs, The Limits of Control, Semiotext(e): Schizo-Culture, vol. III, no. 2, 1978, pp. 38-42

Deleuze, “Postscript.”

Reference Image 8Francis Tseng, The Founder: a dystopian business-simulator

Chapt. 03:

Control Society

Introduction

In this lecture, I will introduce the concept of ‘control society.’ We will examine the management of surveillance and privacy in contemporary time and space. In the end, I’ll ask if we can imagine a ‘New Weapon’ by subverting the mechanisms of surveillance.

You may be familiar with Michel Foucault’s critique of the panopticon, a structure where an all-seeing eye gazes at the subjects. There, the subjects cannot know if and when they are being watched.1 They internalize the surveillance and discipline. This architectural manifestation of surveillance became the predominant forms of prisons from the early nineteenth-century onward. Take, for example, Millbank Prison in London, a place that held prisoners before they were sent abroad. We can see from the floor plans that panopticons like these were not simply an architectural plan to maximize surveillance, but also a political statement for the sovereign. They were an instruction for the sovereign to exert its power and command subjects to become disciplined.

Foucault found the same disciplinary mechanisms in schools, factories, hospitals and armies. In these spaces, there were clear distinctions between things you could do and things you couldn’t do, and if you did the wrong thing, you’d get punished. But there were gaps between these spaces of discipline, unregulated and unorganized areas where ‘everyday life’ could take place. Imagine a Parisian cafe in the early 20th century, where creative writers would come and discuss the politics.2 There’s a romantic notion that authentic human relationships could flourish in these spaces that escaped regulation, spaces free from the confinement of rules.

However, contemporary society lacks such zones for free association as public spaces are turned into privately owned ones (i.e. community spaces being carefully converted into shopping malls) and mechanisms of surveillance proliferate. It’s not just that surveillance cameras are everywhere and workplaces are synchronized through high-speed internet, but our friends constantly and instantly share via devices their whereabouts and images as status updates on the social network. Is this a multiplication of surveillance?

It maybe no coincidence that about hundred years after the Millbank Prison, the spatial mechanics of panopticon were employed by the U.S government in the construction of the Pentagon in 1941. The Pentagon’s architectural design is basically a recursive panopticon. Its design reflects different layers of surveillance in tightly knit systems. In this myriad of panopticons, we find the core mechanics for the present day – a society of control.

Control

Gilles Deleuze offers his take on underlying contemporary mechanisms of public and private spaces in “Postscript on the Society of Control.”3 It is a special text that reads like an unassuming Anti-Manifesto for the Digital era. First, in his analysis, he associates late 19th-century capitalism with the disciplinary society just mentioned, which manifested in spaces such as schools, factories and prisons. To convey the character of a disciplinary society, Deleuze finds a metaphor in the mole, a small earthbound animal that makes mazes underground. The mole’s environment represents traditional capitalism, a hierarchical structure in which the mole builds its centralized dwelling. This hierarchy is presided over by a patriarchal figure who manages the distribution of labor among the workforce. The distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed is clear in disciplinary society because they occupy different spaces and functions.

Deleuze contrasts disciplinary society with ‘control society,’ associated with the 20th-century capitalism. He uses another metaphor, the serpent, or snake, to convey the systemic conditions that produce the self-contradicting bodies in a highly industrialized society. The serpent moves smoothly between the terrains, both above and underground. This movement represents free-flowing control mechanisms that operate both in and outside of traditionally defined capitalist spaces. With these metaphors, Deleuze encourages us to pay attention to the changing forms of power from discipline to control as we move from analog to digital, module to modulation, and from the barracks of a prison to stacks of code. As Deleuze remarks in “Postscript”:

The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.4

Code, here, means both computer programming languages and passwords. Code is the language and rules of a control society. How exactly does code become a form of power in a ‘society of control’? Alexander Galloway offers insight about the word ‘control,’ a term whose subtle meaning can easily be lost in translation:

Recall that the French contrôle carries stresses in meaning that are slightly different from the English control. Contrôle means control as in the power to influence people and things, but it also refers to the actual administration of control via particular monitoring apparatuses such as train turnstiles, border crossings, and checkpoints. The notion, in English, of having to pass through "passport control" gets at the deeper meaning of the word. So when Deleuze talks about les societes de contrôle he means those kinds of societies, or alternately those localized places within the social totality, where mobility is fostered inside certain strictures of motion, where openings appear rather than disappear, where subjects (or for that matter objects) are liberated as long as they adhere to a variety of prescribed comportments.5

The security screening and passport control in airports are key rituals in our ‘society of control.’ The same mechanism of control is at play whenever the movement of bodies is managed such that they can circulate but only in a circumscribed way. It’s not surprising Deleuze mentions the highway as another metaphor for control society. Highways, especially in popular culture with films like Easy Rider(1969), give the impression that one has the ability to go anywhere and decide where they want to be in the world. In reality, highways multiply the forms of control via policing, speed limits and checkpoints at every entrance and exit. Even in the rest areas where one can consume food and gas, credit card purchases are reported to financial institutions in real time. In a society of control, it’s unclear where the monitoring begins and ends as one’s complicity in systems of real-time tracking is built into the infrastructure. The term ‘control’ hints that Deleuze might have been inspired by William S. Burroughs 6 as well as cybernetics, the study of self-regulating systems sustained by a series of feedback loops. Cyberneticians, such as Nobert Wiener, found such self-regulating systems in machines, animals and humans alike.

We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.”7

What is meant by ‘dividuals’? While individuals are separate from each other, they are coherent entities unto themselves; ‘dividuals,’ on the other hand, are not only separate from others but also divided within themselves, split by the desire to oppress and the desire to resist. In the total surveilling environment, the question of “who is exploiting who?” cannot be answered easily, further promoting conflicting desires for exploitation and comradery. In the emptiness created by this division of self, in the ensuing emotional gap, companies take over.

Deleuze says corporations are like a gas and that companies have a soul. Consider the fact that many people anthropomorphize corporations – “Ask Google about something” or “We are Facebook friends” – or equate status updates with presence. Furthermore, technologies in societies of control promise extreme personalization. Machine interfaces, operating systems and content are designed to maximize individual addiction to communication. We communicate constantly and reside in a feedback loop comprised of likes, retweets and comment threads. We live for an ecstasy of communication. We dream of a seamless connectivity.

The continuousness of instant communications is integral to control society. Meanwhile, social networks produce profit by monetizing our attention span and emphatically blurring the boundary between work and leisure. These features are often experienced as convenience and pleasure, but there is a dark side to this. Let’s consider other ways we as individuals, or rather, as ‘dividuals,’ are impacted, managed and monitored by control society. First, let’s look at the idea of privacy. I'd like to give you about 5 minutes to think and write your definition of privacy.

Discussion

Taeyoon: Can we define privacy in our own words?

Student 1: For me I think the most important thing about privacy is that it functions as this kind of insulation from social norms that may be reactionary. So maybe you have some behaviors, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but people in society would consider them wrong for whatever reason. So privacy kind of allows for this bubble to act out those behaviors and be yourself in that sense. I see that as being important along two axes of development. It’s important for your own personal development, insofar as it gives you space to make mistakes without anybody holding you to them. It also affords you the space to develop ideas and practices that may be against the social norm but later might become the social norm. So you need this space insulated from judgement or control.

Student 2: I kind of say that exact same thing, but in three words. Those being personhood, boundaries, and seclusion. Essentially you have the ability to be something as a person, be yourself. The boundaries are between you and everything else in reality.

Student 3: I would like to add that there is a sense of control, because you are the rightful owner of whatever it is that you are doing or exploring and you are the only person who can then allow people into that world you’ve created for yourself. So there is a choice. It’s not just that you can have a secret, but that you can choose to keep something.

Francis Tseng(Special guest)8: Privacy for me is opacity, distance, reserve, attachment, the right not to be defined as a person via social networks; not being defined by your physical tastes or things you watch, this is privacy as well…

Student 5: Maybe privacy in the sense of what Francis is talking about, that it is a productive kind of thing. Privacy can be used to dig deep into seclusion, but privacy can be a creative thing that allows one the space to grow.

Student 3: I think we can also talk about how when you invoke privacy, that would be an intimate or vulnerable situation.

Taeyoon: I think of privacy as a human right more than anything else.

Francis: Then you have doctors in medicine, about how patients have the right to privacy. There is professional privacy that has to do with conduct.

Taeyoon: How about the privacy of families? For me, privacy comes down to the question of intimacy. What’s the role of technology in intimate relationship? How pervasive is technology in our daily life? And how do these technologies facilitate and enable the intimacies in our personal lives? Can we can have both intimacy and privacy, or do certain modes of communication (social media, smart phone messaging) risk forgoing privacy?

1Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Random House, 1975).

G.P. Holford - G.P. Holford, An Account of Millbank Penitentiary (1828)
2George Plimpton, William Pène du Bois, Jane Lougee, and Christopher Logue from the Paris Review

3Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (1992): 3-7.

4Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control.”

5Alexander R Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital (United States: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 106

6 William S. Burroughs, The Limits of Control, Semiotext(e): Schizo-Culture, vol. III, no. 2, 1978, pp. 38-42

Deleuze, “Postscript.”

10
11
12

Nothing to hide

We have people like Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and Alphabet Inc., saying that privacy isn’t that important if you have nothing to hide.

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities. 9

This troubling for two reasons. His statement “you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” is a very unfair way of approaching the situation. What if you didn’t know your activity was illegal in the first place? Or what if your activity was legal at the time of execution, but the laws changed after the fact? What if it’s simply something personal or intimate that is no one else’s business?

Schmidt also talks about the USA Patriot Act, enacted after September 11 attacks, which required companies to share their customers’ data with the U.S. government in case of a terrorist threat. In addition to this far-ranging legislation, there were many other secretive measures taken by the intelligence community to access private data (for instance, the President’s Surveillance Program and PRISM).10

We know about these surveillance activities because of Edward Snowden, a former employee of CIA who released classified information about the U.S. government’s activities. When asked about his reason for the leak in an interview, he said “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.”

“These sort of things” includes the regularized sweeping up of information on multiple levels of transaction in corporate and governmental institutions, both voluntarily and unwittingly. A giant vacuum cleaner that collects all possible information, all possible dirt, and keeps it in a giant freezer. PRISM, for example, gathers communications from several major US internet companies, raising new questions. Taken together, these measures have led to this transaction of data becoming the norm rather than the exception. If you’re not familiar with the history of domestic spying, especially from 2001 onward, there’s a really detailed timeline of what actually happened published by the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

I’m tempted to say that this control of personal information is new, but we know from the history of computing that cryptography and surveillance were central aims in the development of computers. These ideas remind us of George Orwell’s 1984, a world where there is one giant corporate state and no sense of privacy. However, our lived experience may be closer to Brave New World, a novel by Aldous Huxley.11

Compared to the Orwellian dystopia, the Brave New World is a happy place. There is material abundance, music that never stops and a psychedelic substance called soma that everyone takes to feel happy. It’s a space without real feeling or critical thinking. But underneath the seamless neatness, there are tightly controlled codes of behavior enforced through involuntary participation in mutual surveillance. There’s much more we can discuss concerning current government surveillance and its relationship to a wider global politics.

Discussion

Taeyoon: Francis, we were just talking about this before class. Would you like to share some thoughts?

Francis: I think a lot about this transition to a self-governing or self-regulation of behaviors, as if we are always being watched. This happened to me personally. I lived in China for a little bit where there is a lot of government surveillance – probably more than there is here. I remember every time I wrote an email or something, in the back of my mind I would wonder if I’m saying anything that could get me in trouble. So even if they weren’t watching me, the effects were still there.

The other thing I mentioned was how contemporary surveillance can dissociate behaviors from the time period that they occur. For example, let’s say you do something that’s considered fine to do today. If it’s decided in the future that this act is unlawful, they could summon that particular data and use it against you in a totally different time.

Taeyoon: Can I add something? We also talked about how it’s a privilege to say “I have nothing to hide.” One can say such thing only when they are in a socially and financially privileged place. Normalizing an assumption that one has ‘nothing to hide’ may cost the safety and dignity of others who are closer to risk. By enforcing this kind of transparency Eric Schmidt alludes to, you are actually oppressing another person.

Francis: Absolutely. One more important point regarding surveillance relates to how pattern recognition, like AI and stuff, can impact what we might call precursor behaviors, or the actions that can lead to a person becoming under suspect. This happens all the time in China. China doesn’t want people politically organizing and protesting, right? So the behaviors that lead up to that are also suspect. So if you start talking in large groups on chat platforms, then they shut these down. Their thing with memes, apparently, is if they get transferred enough times they shut them off too because they don’t want the idea to propagate too far. So it keeps coming back to the precursor behaviors that lead to the actions they want to prevent, which increasingly also become illegal in a de facto sense of the matter.

Taeyoon: Right, surveillance takes form in different ways. I am particularly interested in how this condition of surveillance affects the Average Joe or the Average Taeyoon.

Francis: I like that you brought up Brave New World earlier because that’s what I had in the back of my mind reading Deleuze’s essay. At the beginning of the piece, he talks about how society is controlled in a way that is very antithetical to the top-down authoritarian version in Orwell’s 1984. He was writing that around the time that B.F. Skinner was doing his operant conditioning experiments on pigeons, training pigeons to do certain things so that they get food. He called that experiment “behavior shaping.” In this brave new society, some people live these really luxurious lives but in another hidden part of the world, in the tropics, there are people doing all the hard work. The way he sort of works through that problem in the story is that from birth they’re conditioned to want to do that kind of work in the tropics. I think that is the most important point about this society of control. It’s not about the person who is your boss telling you what to do or making you do something, because they can make you want to do it. So it’s all about shaping your desires so that they conform to their own ends.

9 Quote from a video interview with CNBC in 2009. Also refer to Huffingtonpost, Google CEO On Privacy: ‘If You Have Something You Don’t Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Doing It’ 3,18,2010

Reference Image 10PRISM
Reference Image 11This is the front cover art for the book Brave New World written by Aldous Huxley. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Chatto and Windus (London), or the cover artist, Leslie Holland. First edition. From Wikipedia.org

Chapt. 03:

Chapter Three Page 2

Nothing to hide

We have people like Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and Alphanet Inc., saying that privacy isn’t that important if you have nothing to hide.

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities. 9

This troubling for two reasons. His statement “you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” is a very unfair way of approaching the situation. What if you didn’t know your activity was illegal in the first place? Or what if your activity was legal at the time of execution, but the laws changed after the fact? What if it’s simply something personal or intimate that is no one else’s business?

Schmidt also talks about the USA Patriot Act, enacted after September 11 attacks, which required companies to share their customers’ data with the U.S. government in case of a terrorist threat. In addition to this far-ranging legislation, there were many other secretive measures taken by the intelligence community to access private data (for instance, the President’s Surveillance Program and PRISM).10

We know about these surveillance activities because of Edward Snowden, a former employee of CIA who released classified information about the U.S. government’s activities. When asked about his reason for the leak in an interview, he said “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.”

“These sort of things” includes the regularized sweeping up of information on multiple levels of transaction in corporate and governmental institutions, both voluntarily and unwittingly. A giant vacuum cleaner that collects all possible information, all possible dirt, and keeps it in a giant freezer. PRISM, for example, gathers communications from several major US internet companies, raising new questions. Taken together, these measures have led to this transaction of data becoming the norm rather than the exception. If you’re not familiar with the history of domestic spying, especially from 2001 onward, there’s a really detailed timeline of what actually happened published by the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

I’m tempted to say that this control of personal information is new, but we know from the history of computing that cryptography and surveillance were central aims in the development of computers. These ideas remind us of George Orwell’s 1984, a world where there is one giant corporate state and no sense of privacy. However, our lived experience may be closer to Brave New World, a novel by Aldous Huxley.11

Compared to the Orwellian dystopia, the Brave New World is a happy place. There is material abundance, music that never stops and a psychedelic substance called soma that everyone takes to feel happy. It’s a space without real feeling or critical thinking. But underneath the seamless neatness, there are tightly controlled codes of behavior enforced through involuntary participation in mutual surveillance. There’s much more we can discuss concerning current government surveillance and its relationship to a wider global politics.

Discussion

Taeyoon: Francis, we were just talking about this before class. Would you like to share some thoughts?

Francis: I think a lot about this transition to a self-governing or self-regulation of behaviors, as if we are always being watched. This happened to me personally. I lived in China for a little bit where there is a lot of government surveillance – probably more than there is here. I remember every time I wrote an email or something, in the back of my mind I would wonder if I’m saying anything that could get me in trouble. So even if they weren’t watching me, the effects were still there.

The other thing I mentioned was how contemporary surveillance can dissociate behaviors from the time period that they occur. For example, let’s say you do something that’s considered fine to do today. If it’s decided in the future that this act is unlawful, they could summon that particular data and use it against you in a totally different time.

Taeyoon: Can I add something? We also talked about how it’s a privilege to say “I have nothing to hide.” One can say such thing only when they are in a socially and financially privileged place. Normalizing an assumption that one has ‘nothing to hide’ may cost the safety and dignity of others who are closer to risk. By enforcing this kind of transparency Eric Schmidt alludes to, you are actually oppressing another person.

Francis: Absolutely. One more important point regarding surveillance relates to how pattern recognition, like AI and stuff, can impact what we might call precursor behaviors, or the actions that can lead to a person becoming under suspect. This happens all the time in China. China doesn’t want people politically organizing and protesting, right? So the behaviors that lead up to that are also suspect. So if you start talking in large groups on chat platforms, then they shut these down. Their thing with memes, apparently, is if they get transferred enough times they shut them off too because they don’t want the idea to propagate too far. So it keeps coming back to the precursor behaviors that lead to the actions they want to prevent, which increasingly also become illegal in a de facto sense of the matter.

Taeyoon: Right, surveillance takes form in different ways. I am particularly interested in how this condition of surveillance affects the Average Joe or the Average Taeyoon.

Francis: I like that you brought up Brave New World earlier because that’s what I had in the back of my mind reading Deleuze’s essay. At the beginning of the piece, he talks about how society is controlled in a way that is very antithetical to the top-down authoritarian version in Orwell’s 1984. He was writing that around the time that B.F. Skinner was doing his operant conditioning experiments on pigeons, training pigeons to do certain things so that they get food. He called that experiment “behavior shaping.” In this brave new society, some people live these really luxurious lives but in another hidden part of the world, in the tropics, there are people doing all the hard work. The way he sort of works through that problem in the story is that from birth they’re conditioned to want to do that kind of work in the tropics. I think that is the most important point about this society of control. It’s not about the person who is your boss telling you what to do or making you do something, because they can make you want to do it. So it’s all about shaping your desires so that they conform to their own ends.

9 Quote from a video interview with CNBC in 2009. Also refer to Huffingtonpost, Google CEO On Privacy: ‘If You Have Something You Don’t Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Doing It’ 3,18,2010

11This is the front cover art for the book Brave New World written by Aldous Huxley. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Chatto and Windus (London), or the cover artist, Leslie Holland. First edition. From Wikipedia.org
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New weapon

So this is the question for today: what is the New Weapon? It is a two-fold question: what new weapon governs us? and what new weapon do we have to protect ourselves? We’ve been discussing the first part of this question concerning the existing and emerging technologies and techniques of control. But I’d like to turn now to how we might subvert these technologies. How can we use the tools of surveillance to subvert the power structure? Two approaches come to mind: counter-surveillance and obfuscation. Counter-surveillance is appropriating the technology of surveillance to empower individuals and protect their privacy. For example, Steve Mann created wearable devices12 that are designed to conceal individual’s identity and can also be used to stare back at the surveillance camera.

Surya Mattu created NSHEYYY which sniffs out the wireless network of nearby devices, and makes private information about the device (such as its history of logging into certain wireless networks) available and visible.13 NSHEYYY uses the same protocols that are used by the wireless providers and advertising companies, but instead of exploiting data for profit, it makes the data available for its users.

Another approach is obfuscation in which so much data is intentionally given to the point that the data becomes meaningless. Adnaseum is a web browser extension that tricks google chrome to think the user is clicking all the advertisements14. Created by Daniel C. Howe, Mushon Zer-Aviv. and Helen Nissenbaum, it’s “a free browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data and protect users from tracking by advertising networks.”9 Projects like these make it possible for someone like us to have an active engagement with technology as opposed to merely being subject to it.

Discussion

Francis: With projects like NSHEYYY that are both critiques and tools at the same time, it seems like they succeed in showing people what they can do but at the same time they also empower people to potentially do some pretty creepy things. For example: a program that lets you log into someone’s Facebook if they were on public wifi on the same network as you. These projects point out flaws in our system, but at the same time, they are also ethically complicated because they allow people to do some bad stuff.

Taeyoon: Definitely. I think artists like Surya Mattu know counter-surveillance is not a total solution, but in pointing to issues that are not talked about, it is a step forward. And I believe these kinds of interventions do lead us to be better informed about the conditions we live in. I think this is a good time to think about Artificial Intelligence (AI). I don’t actually understand AI enough to tell how it is different from stored program computers and if it is just indexical challenges or if AI actually shifts the paradigm because human agencies are displaced. However, we know the new weapons of mass destruction, such as drones, on a fundamental level share the same logic of Machine Learning algorithms as the tools for marketing and mass consumerism. What is your thought on that?

Francis: I think of a few things. I guess one of the most interesting things about AI is in relation to conventional surveillance mechanisms. Because it’s against the Constitution for a cop to just stop you and look through your stuff, people are trying to figure out the implications of AI for mass surveillance. I think the current precedent is that AI can collect as much data on you as it can, and it doesn’t count as illegal search and seizure until a human looks at it. It’s interesting that the relationship we have with AI is increasingly one of anthropomorphization, where we regard it as human. It makes me wonder if AI will ever cross a threshold where it has become so sophisticated at pattern recognition that it’s like a human is looking at your data and if the Fourth Amendment would kick in there. But on the other hand, if you have a human surveilling you, then theoretically you could negotiate with that person, reason with them, tell them to go away. Maybe you can’t negotiate with an AI.

Taeyoon: And connecting that to the day-to-day level, there are discussions about self-driving cars and what would happen if they are involved in an accident. It would just introduce another level of entanglement that we don’t have the policy for.

Student 1: Self-driving cars, although I can’t wait for them to come, are tied to the idea of ‘superhighways’. We’ll have increasingly rapid ways to get to a place but we’re only going on this one highway that’ll be controlled. So our self-driving cars might only take us through places that have shopping malls or to other calculated destinations, and we won’t get off the beaten path.

Student 2: When these conversations arise, I think about how we live our lives in the constant, vast systems of surveillance and control that really dictate what we can do and are monitoring us all the time. But once they are in place it’s really hard to make them go away, right? Like once the infrastructure of PRISM is in place, it’s very hard to say, oh let’s just shut it all down. I feel like it is more of a question of whether it’s possible to backtrack or deconstruct these things.

Francis: One project that I’d connect that to is Project Cybersyn.15 Salvador Allende, a democratically elected Socialist president in Chile in the 60s, started Cybersyn in a bid to create a cybernetically planned economy. And this was back when Chile literally had five computers, and IBM refused to sell them stuff because they were afraid Allende would nationalize their company. But this cybernetic network, created to manage the economy democratically, would actually rely on infrastructure that some might view as part of mass surveillance. So that’s one possible route for trying to leverage these technologies in a more progressive direction, but it’s obviously fraught with issues.

I also think of the “Reconfiguration Thesis,” something similar to what is discussed in logistics and supply chain management. For example, Walmart, Amazon and all these large corporations have very sophisticated ways of managing raw materials flows, production and restocking. The reconfiguration thesis for our context asks if can we take these technologies that are geared toward this globalized capitalist production and use it towards socially progressive ends. So, yeah, I think we can ask a similar question about whether surveillance infrastructure can be used in a different way.

End note

Pressing issues around human rights affirm that brick and mortar activism is still very important. However, the way we experience the world is changing, mediated through technologies of control. Considering the new normals, what should be our top priority as we create the alternatives? How can we subvert the technologies of control to empower ourselves? How can we learn about the true nature of technology, demystify the power structure and provide an alternative? And what is the takeaway from Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control”? I return to Galloway for suggestions.

The ultimate significance of control society is not so much the continuous encroachment of the border checkpoint or the passport control, not so much data mining or facial recognition algorithms, but that it has eviscerated history, not by banning dissent but by accelerating the opportunities and channels for critical thought to infinity and therefore making it impossible to think historically in the first place. Thus the central challenge within control society will be not simply to resist the various new nefarious control apparatuses, but to rescue history from its own consummation.10

Perhaps we can begin by registering the many realities in existence, from virtual, augmented to parallel ones, some more real than the others. Perhaps we can find common ground between these realities in order to situate ourselves in a critically informed vision of history and the future.

In this oscillation of realities, there may be an opportunity to connect with the past and “rescue history” as Galloway suggests. In this turn to active life, perhaps we can create the spaces for unmonitored everyday life. As artists and critical makers, we can avoid replicating the systems of control in an artwork, and instead, reveal the complexities within in it. Instead of celebrating possible uses of technology, we can ask: what is the world we want to live in?

Lecture date: June, 2016 at the School for Poetic Computation, New York City with Brandon Liu, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Elite Kedan, Guhong Min, Helene Martin, Jonathan Leung, Krista Nordgren, Max Fowler, Meina Kalayeh, Matt Visco, Melanie Hoff, Nahee Kim, Oren Shoham and October, 2015 with Alex Tolar, Andy Dayton, Becca Moore, Brian Solon, Chris Anderson, Michael Simpson, Robby Kraft, Roy Macdonald, Sarah Howorka, Yeseul Song, Yosuke Sakai. I'd like to thanks the students who participated in the discussion and the special guest.

Bibliography

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London, United Kingdom: Verso Books, 2014.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October 59 (1992): 3-7.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.

Galloway, Alexander R. Laruelle: Against the Digital. United States: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Hampshire: Zero Books, 2009.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Random House, 1975.

Reference Image 13Jen Kagan, Packet Sniffing in the Subway, 3,28, 2016
Reference Image 53Rob Meyers, The Art of Management, Avant.org, 2015

Reference Image Student project: SFPC Bank, Melanie Hoff, 2016

Chapt. 03:

Chapter Three Page 3

New weapon

So this is the question for today: what is the New Weapon? It is a two-fold question: what new weapon governs us? and what new weapon do we have to protect ourselves? We’ve been discussing the first part of this question concerning the existing and emerging technologies and techniques of control. But I’d like to turn now to how we might subvert these technologies. How can we use the tools of surveillance to subvert the power structure? Two approaches come to mind: counter-surveillance and obfuscation. Counter-surveillance is appropriating the technology of surveillance to empower individuals and protect their privacy. For example, Steve Mann created wearable devices12 that are designed to conceal individual’s identity and can also be used to stare back at the surveillance camera.

Surya Mattu created NSHEYYY which sniffs out the wireless network of nearby devices, and makes private information about the device (such as its history of logging into certain wireless networks) available and visible.13 NSHEYYY uses the same protocols that are used by the wireless providers and advertising companies, but instead of exploiting data for profit, it makes the data available for its users.

Another approach is obfuscation in which so much data is intentionally given to the point that the data becomes meaningless. Adnaseum is a web browser extension that tricks google chrome to think the user is clicking all the advertisements14. Created by Daniel C. Howe, Mushon Zer-Avov. and Helen Nissenbaum, it’s “a free browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data and protect users from tracking by advertising networks.”9 Projects like these make it possible for someone like us to have an active engagement with technology as opposed to merely being subject to it.

Discussion

Francis: With projects like NSHEYYY that are both critiques and tools at the same time, it seems like they succeed in showing people what they can do but at the same time they also empower people to potentially do some pretty creepy things. For example: a program that lets you log into someone’s Facebook if they were on public wifi on the same network as you. These projects point out flaws in our system, but at the same time, they are also ethically complicated because they allow people to do some bad stuff.

Taeyoon: Definitely. I think artists like Surya Mattu know counter-surveillance is not a total solution, but in pointing to issues that are not talked about, it is a step forward. And I believe these kinds of interventions do lead us to be better informed about the conditions we live in. I think this is a good time to think about Artificial Intelligence (AI). I don’t actually understand AI enough to tell how it is different from stored program computers and if it is just indexical challenges or if AI actually shifts the paradigm because human agencies are displaced. However, we know the new weapons of mass destruction, such as drones, on a fundamental level share the same logic of Machine Learning algorithms as the tools for marketing and mass consumerism. What is your thought on that?

Francis: I think of a few things. I guess one of the most interesting things about AI is in relation to conventional surveillance mechanisms. Because it’s against the Constitution for a cop to just stop you and look through your stuff, people are trying to figure out the implications of AI for mass surveillance. I think the current precedent is that AI can collect as much data on you as it can, and it doesn’t count as illegal search and seizure until a human looks at it. It’s interesting that the relationship we have with AI is increasingly one of anthropomorphization, where we regard it as human. It makes me wonder if AI will ever cross a threshold where it has become so sophisticated at pattern recognition that it’s like a human is looking at your data and if the Fourth Amendment would kick in there. But on the other hand, if you have a human surveilling you, then theoretically you could negotiate with that person, reason with them, tell them to go away. Maybe you can’t negotiate with an AI.

Taeyoon: And connecting that to the day-to-day level, there are discussions about self-driving cars and what would happen if they are involved in an accident. It would just introduce another level of entanglement that we don’t have the policy for.

Student 1: Self-driving cars, although I can’t wait for them to come, are tied to the idea of ‘superhighways’. We’ll have increasingly rapid ways to get to a place but we’re only going on this one highway that’ll be controlled. So our self-driving cars might only take us through places that have shopping malls or to other calculated destinations, and we won’t get off the beaten path.

Student 2: When these conversations arise, I think about how we live our lives in the constant, vast systems of surveillance and control that really dictate what we can do and are monitoring us all the time. But once they are in place it’s really hard to make them go away, right? Like once the infrastructure of PRISM is in place, it’s very hard to say, oh let’s just shut it all down. I feel like it is more of a question of whether it’s possible to backtrack or deconstruct these things.

Francis: One project that I’d connect that to is Project Cybersyn.15 Salvador Allende, a democratically elected Socialist president in Chile in the 60s, started Cybersyn in a bid to create a cybernetically planned economy. And this was back when Chile literally had five computers, and IBM refused to sell them stuff because they were afraid Allende would nationalize their company. But this cybernetic network, created to manage the economy democratically, would actually rely on infrastructure that some might view as part of mass surveillance. So that’s one possible route for trying to leverage these technologies in a more progressive direction, but it’s obviously fraught with issues.

I also think of the “Reconfiguration Thesis,” something similar to what is discussed in logistics and supply chain management. For example, Walmart, Amazon and all these large corporations have very sophisticated ways of managing raw materials flows, production and restocking. The reconfiguration thesis for our context asks if can we take these technologies that are geared toward this globalized capitalist production and use it towards socially progressive ends. So, yeah, I think we can ask a similar question about whether surveillance infrastructure can be used in a different way.

End note

Pressing issues around human rights affirm that brick and mortar activism is still very important. However, the way we experience the world is changing, mediated through technologies of control. Considering the new normals, what should be our top priority as we create the alternatives? How can we subvert the technologies of control to empower ourselves? How can we learn about the true nature of technology, demystify the power structure and provide an alternative? And what is the takeaway from Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control”? I return to Galloway for suggestions.

The ultimate significance of control society is not so much the continuous encroachment of the border checkpoint or the passport control, not so much data mining or facial recognition algorithms, but that it has eviscerated history, not by banning dissent but by accelerating the opportunities and channels for critical thought to infinity and therefore making it impossible to think historically in the first place. Thus the central challenge within control society will be not simply to resist the various new nefarious control apparatuses, but to rescue history from its own consummation.10

Perhaps we can begin by registering the many realities in existence, from virtual, augmented to parallel ones, some more real than the others. Perhaps we can find common ground between these realities in order to situate ourselves in a critically informed vision of history and the future.

In this oscillation of realities, there may be an opportunity to connect with the past and “rescue history” as Galloway suggests. In this turn to active life, perhaps we can create the spaces for unmonitored everyday life. As artists and critical makers, we can avoid replicating the systems of control in an artwork, and instead, reveal the complexities within in it. Instead of celebrating possible uses of technology, we can ask: what is the world we want to live in?

Lecture date: June, 2016 at the School for Poetic Computation, New York City with Brandon Liu, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Elite Kedan, Guhong Min, Helene Martin, Jonathan Leung, Krista Nordgren, Max Fowler, Meina Kalayeh, Matt Visco, Melanie Hoff, Nahee Kim, Oren Shoham and October, 2015 with Alex Tolar, Andy Dayton, Becca Moore, Brian Solon, Chris Anderson, Michael Simpson, Robby Kraft, Roy Macdonald, Sarah Howorka, Yeseul Song, Yosuke Sakai. I'd like to thanks the students who participated in the discussion and the special guest.

Bibliography

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London, United Kingdom: Verso Books, 2014.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October 59 (1992): 3-7.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.

Galloway, Alexander R. Laruelle: Against the Digital. United States: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Hampshire: Zero Books, 2009.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Random House, 1975.

13Jen Kagan, Packet Sniffing in the Subway, 3,28, 2016
53Rob Meyers, The Art of Management, Avant.org, 2015

Student project: SFPC Bank, Melanie Hoff, 2016
Chapter 1 Chapter 2
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8