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What about surveillance in the digital culture revolution?

The planet of apps – how the smartphone changed the world
Forfatter: Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Forlag: Aschehoug (Norge)
BIG TECH / The planet of apps is probably one of the richest things you can now read about how we humans "sew together" with communication technology. But what about surveillance?


Has the world's new large communicative community of several billion smartphoneis – iPhones Huawei etc – a possible liberating potential for accelerating changes (see articles on accelerationism)? Anthropology professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen's new rich book The Apps' PlanetHow the smartphone changed the world is useful and concrete in this context.

Through the 271 pages, he plows through a wealth of both personal examples, facts and societal reflections. A major concern in the book is how social media standardizes and reduces our diversity: "Social media platforms are inherently angular, simplifying and reducing." In the chapter "Standardized and unique", Hylland Eriksen adds at the same time that there is "something aristocratic about the criticism of the simplifications, standardization and homogenisation that takes place in the smartphone interface". And adds that the technology is both reducing and enriching. The mobile phone simplifies the lives of very many people on the planet, especially in Africa and Asia, where many do not have access to the internet / PC. The new communicative community is both for pleasure and benefit – something that also accelerates this newspaper's mentioned accelerators with their desire economy.

Replaces the book

What about the book as a medium? The book mentions that young people today no longer read traditional books. A professor also says that her literature students do not even read one hel book. And students like to change screens every 19 seconds. What is now called "iGeneration", checks its mobile 50 times a day. Here lies The Apps' Planet one step ahead – it is already available as an audiobook for your smartphone.

We in MODERN TIMES now use Telegram, as WhatsApp and Messenger from Facebook "leak" information about you.

Hylland Eriksen also devotes some space to the emigrant in the book, there refugeeis via GPS and Google Maps at least able to orient themselves – and help each other.

The smartphone has almost become a welcome extension of the eyes, ears and consciousness – which is reflected in the globe's explosive growth in the number of mobile phones – Hylland Eriksen's many historical number examples are clear here.


On the other hand goes The Apps' Planet into the monitoring that comes with the collection of big data on the platforms you use (Facebook, Google etc.). About Hylland Eriksen got an ad on the screen about a plane ticket to Saint Lucia after looking via Google for a guest house there – well, he can live with that. He is more concerned with how the algorithms angle the reality we take in, as an environmental activist or oil engineer, a Democrat or a Republican, is presented with data that only gives more of their "registered" interests. One is shielded from counter-perceptions, ends up in echo chambers, the "community of disagreement" becomes smaller.

Hylland Eriksen also writes about Myanmar's mobile phones, where 60 per cent of the population got these (well helped by Norwegian Telenor) as a «digital cultural revolution». Unfortunately user Myanmar letter codes in Zangwi rather than the Internet's global Unicode system. According to the book, the former military dictatorship has hampered the population from searching, reading and communicating with foreigners in another language.

It is never known what collected big data can be used for with today's new military coup in Myanmar – which the book could not be updated on – the monitoring of the country's citizens will clearly increase. But China is probably best at this. There, citizens are monitored and disciplined (as in the form of possible restrictions on travel and job opportunities) on a micro level through the smartphone – "little brother" sees you.

I can recall here what Edward Snowden (see recently told about the smartphone as the new little spy – it is quite impossible to turn off completely, as the battery can not be removed. In the age of surveillance capitalism, you are not only mapped via the nearest mobile masts; both camera and microphone can "leak" information. With the unique code (IMEI) built into the smartphone, tracks are left everywhere – also via the Internet of Things and all the mobile's active apps. Soon the algorithms know more about you than you do.

The Apps' Planet comments at the same time when it comes to surveillance, so "most people in many parts of the world will consider it a luxury problem for people with too much free time". The practical usefulness of the South is too overwhelming.

Encrypted apps

But when it comes to surveillance, Hylland Eriksen does not mention any of the most important encrypted apps to avoid this – messaging services that immediately encrypt "end-to-end" or via a protected server. He writes about the old telegrams, but not about the app Telegram, which is exactly what people in Myanmar use, or protesting people around the world (also in Hong Kong). He writes about Morse code signals, but not about the app Signal, which is also frequently used. Or about Bridgefly, which uses Bluetooth and local wi-fi when the telephone and internet are shut down by the authorities.

We ourselves use in MODERN TIMES now Telegram for messages both via mobile app and on PC / MAC, as WhatsApp and Messenger from Facebook "leak" information about you – notice the illegally long new contracts you have to accept for use… Messenger is the worst, just look at the table (picture) about how much the different apps collect about you.

Encrypted server-based Telegram also has the option of its own unattended chat groups, or "channels" (Broadcast as news wall). Unfortunately, the Signal app is so protected that if you lose your mobile phone, you will lose all messages as well.

Facebook has over three billion users, while Telegram has 500 million – but the latter has increased enormously due to the flight after Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp. remember that Facebook just demonstrated its power by closing all news links on the platform in Australia as lawmakers wanted to protect news media revenue. Google also threatened to shut down their search engine there if they had to pay for the news media, but had to give up.


The Apps' Planet is probably one of the richest things you can read at the moment about how we humans are "sewn together" with communication technology, where everyone we meet has this "prosthesis" in their hand or in a square-worn trouser pocket.

A comment on the accelerationists and the economy of desire – which Hylland Eriksen is talking about with the continuous updating of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat – is the very effort, via clicks and own visibility, to get attention and recognition.

This book about our modern way of life must be read – or heard by everyone with a smartphone.

Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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