Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Surveillor's Dream: Universal Digitalization Of Everything

Today on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman spends time with Harry Lewis, co-author of a distinctly non-utopian view of the digital technology age, “Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion.” Lewis, the former dean of Harvard College, is the author along with Hal Abelson and Ken Ledeen of a new book that explains how the digital revolution is changing our world more profoundly than we could ever imagine.
Almost everything we now do on a regular basis, from sending emails, taking photographs, writing text messages, calling on our cell phones, downloading music, typing on our computers, and using our credit and ATM cards, all of it generates information. Each bit of this information can be captured, digitized, retrieved, copied, and sent anywhere on earth. In an instant.

And every single day the endless information generated by our ever-expanding digital footprints is recorded, tracked, searched through, sold, analyzed, and saved forever.

Some might call this hyper-networked digital explosion and its potential for collaboration and innovation a kind of utopia.

But others warn that it also raises important concerns about privacy, identity, freedom of expression, accountability, and the future of democracy. They argue that our digitized world might actually be closer to the dystopias imagined in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World" or George Orwell's "1984."

The only that unlike the world of Orwell’s 1984, we have “fallen in love with this always-on world” and “accept our loss of privacy in exchange for efficiency, convenience, and small price discounts.”
Have you noticed how gladly e now give Big Brother our love? The coersion is completely subliminal now, so pervasive as to be (almost) completely invisible. The devil's bargain: Love "Big Brother" and we'll give you lots of new, noisy, shiny things: trinkets, gimmicks, toys, fones, games, and lots of sweaty-palmed porn.

One further point worth remembering: Post-structuralist/hermeneutic social philosopher Michel Foucault showed in his writings--especially Discipline & Punish-- that the 'human' sciences (i.e., psychology, sociology, psychiatry, demography, geography, anthropology, etc.), and in particular his discussion of Bentham's panopticon --no matter what else they may be-- are always also the publically funded laboratories in which the State theorizes and tests ways of controlling its occupants, mainly through surveillance, performed in the name of "research."

I usta get into huge arguments about this with science educators. They would deny that science was a 'regulatory' technology. But I'd ask 'em if in fact what Foucault describes isn't true? Does the State NOT harvest data on its citizens, mainly because it can?

They would then fall back on the "Science is neutral, and can be used for both good and ill. It's the purpose that counts." Which, of course, is pure ends-justify-means ethics. And it ignores the fact that science is never created de novo; we are born into it, and may only change it at best, at most, accidentally. "Science" is an entirely human-constructed regime, now irreversibly embedded in the world consciousness. But it is of course not the ONLY epistemological model. "Science" embodies and instantiates a 'particular' set of cultural conditions and social expectations.

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