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Invisible omniscience

The Culture of Surveillance
Forfatter: David Lyon
Forlag: Polity Press (England)
George Orwell's 1984 is still relevant, but "Big Brother" is an outdated and misleading metaphor for today's surveillance, according to author David Lyon. He claims "Big Data" is a more up-to-date linguistic picture.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

David Lyon's book The Culture of Surveillance throws us right into today's multifaceted and complex surveillance scenography. Who is monitoring who, what is being monitored and how? In many ways, we meet ourselves in the revolving door, which circulates us back to the source of surveillance: our own boundless digital curiosity directed at fellow human beings and ourselves, aided by the innovations of technology companies. Orwell's ubiquitous surveillance screen fell from the wall and slammed into our hands, shrinking into an elegant iPhone. The surveillance has literally moved under the skin – and is about to ingest the human body.

Of course, the public and private video camera surveillance in the community has been expanded to most imaginable fields (including face recognition), but the essential exploration is now mostly done in social media and in the algorithms' digital data storage facilities. The surveillance has reached an all-encompassing dimension, it has become the normal one: Private woman and public man participate and contribute to surveillance as never before – voluntary and involuntary. The public has become the leading provider of information data used for monitoring purposes. Development has moved away from the fixed state surveillance eye to a fragmented and fragmented panoptic gaze, where millions of ordinary people post, download, film, photograph, share and enjoy each other in an endless, global and fluid flow of observation. Our active participation in the monitoring methods gives the snooker a new quality; it gets a liquid, gaseous character. surveillance has been integrated and normalized in everyday life in almost all population layers: children, young and old, poor and rich.

The reality shows turned surveillance into entertainment.

Lyon's book gives us a thorough introduction and overview of all aspects of this remarkable monitoring explosion. The changes may not be as spectacular, but the more thought provoking.

Big Data

The tension that, in the former GDR, was forced down the heads of the population from above, now happens on a voluntary basis directly from the grassroots: We constantly monitor each other, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat. At the same time, the data information is stored and sorted globally in the network companies' data storage factories (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook). The data set is analyzed and categorized using intelligent algorithms. The knowledge is sold to a hungry international market.

The market's commercial operators process the data, assess, select, rate and return targeted information to users. Our choices and attitudes are constantly influenced, while the online players know everything about what we are looking for and where we surf, what we buy or sell. An example from Lyon's book tells about the company Uber, which in 2015 launched a new data collection technique that even after the drive was over, the collection of taxi customers' data continued. Lyon quotes Mark Andrejevic's sarcastic statements in the book: "We do not collect data about you because you are suspected, but because you can help us identify who they really are."

Edward Snowden's disclosures of the NSA's access to customer data from telephone companies and their collaboration with government institutions triggered an international shock. Mega surveillance undoubtedly leads to the undermining of democratic processes, Lyon points out. Social sorting by institutions and technology companies via rating means that different social groups are treated differently and partly unfairly.

The fear culture after 9/11 has given the surveillance culture adventurous growth conditions.

The author draws among others Zygmunt Bauman, Jaques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault into the surveillance discourse. Foucault writes in Monitoring and punishment: “The person who is exposed to visibility, and is aware of it himself (the surveillance), takes over the coercive powers of the power and targets them; he internalizes the power relationship by exercising both roles simultaneously (being a supervisor and a supervisor); he is formed into the very principle of his own submission. " Really not-
it becomes interesting when one reads the different submission mechanisms from the book against each other: Orwell's future fiction against Lyon's analytical facts, the book The Circle by Dave Eggers (to whom Lyon constantly refers) up against the Orwells 1984.

novel The Circle tells of a near future where a large online group takes over the services of Google, Apple and Facebook and has full access to the companies' customer information. Through the total control of the customers' interactive actions, the privacy sphere is undermined. Head of Intelligence Eamon Baily instructs all his staff to use a video-sized video camera that can be taken and attached anywhere. The camera continuously sends live streaming to the web. The SeeChange project enables everyone to see everything all the time – which means that tyrants and terrorists will be without a chance, he claims. The Chief of Intelligence requires a society that is "completely transparent".


Lyon addresses the truth in a statement that hovers like a mantra of our time: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." Is this true? Well, we still wear our clothes physically, but digitally we are dressed and poorly naked, yes, almost more transparent than a glass pane. The information you provide when you are scanned on the way to the aircraft, when you shop in the supermarket, pass the boom or pay by credit card, determines whether you are a "good" or "bad", "attractive" or "unattractive" citizen of the companies ranking and marketing strategy. We are seduced and blinded by the smart elegance of information technology, while monitoring has long since been invisibly incorporated through chips and sensors in our ubiquitous digital things. The most surprising thing is that we are more than happy to participate in the monitoring itself; we love and cheer for the super-technology. Why?

Lyon describes how television and radio culture in the 20th century paved the way for Internet culture in the 21st Reality Show as Big Brother generalized the look into the "private" room. Interactive online games further contributed to "legalization". Surveillance became entertainment. With the smartphone in the fist, we took the final and final step into our own surveillance future.

From being the surveillance object, we have become the surveillance subject. We direct the surveillance even with live cam on Facebook; is online with our own private news channel anywhere, anytime. Instagram and Fb friends eagerly follow the live stream and applaud or turn their thumbs down. In this context, Lyon points to the widespread narcissism the surveillance creates among people. We write our sins on social media, exposing our thoughts and feelings. The net has replaced the church and the priest.

Worrying security

Digital openness has become a virtue, while protecting privacy is something that is suspect. At the same time, there has been a fundamental change in society: Before we were afraid of the panoptic gaze that was directed at us, today we are thrilled: the nightmare feeling "you are never alone" gave us earlier, we now get from "you are alone" . The fear of being trapped has shifted to the fear of being excluded. The data you provide determines whether you are "inside" or "outside".

The surveillance screen fell from the wall into our hands, in the form of a smartphone.

Here is perhaps the most important point of content between the novel 1984 og The Culture of Surveillance: Total monitoring provides uneasy security. The surveillance industry has come so far that we have to ask: Are we entitled to our own thoughts, or are they dangerous to society and ourselves? The fear culture after 9/11 has given the surveillance culture adventurous growth conditions. That is why we need more – and above all, even more effective – surveillance, surveillance capitalism insists.

David Lyon is still an optimist. He believes that surveillance can be controlled, provided that totalitarian societal tendencies and various powers are controlled through people's democratic discretion and active digital participation in political processes. We decide for ourselves our digital online future. Without being too dystopian: I have my doubts. Or should we listen to Gilles Deleuze, as in the text Postscriptum about the control community writes: "There is no reason for fear or hope, we just need new weapons."

Hans-Georg Kohler
Kohler is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid. Artist.

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