In class we talked about today’s participatory culture in which individuals are not only consuming but also contribute to the culture. This makes them prosumers (consumer + producer). The example about ‘planking’ immediately made me think of the trend called the ‘Cinnamon Challenge’. The cinnamon challenge is the challenge to swallow a spoon of cinnamon without the aid of water. Cinnamon is a very dry substance and it could make you choke when you’re trying to swallow it. Just like all the other trends on youtube, it got very popular and many people uploaded videos of them taking cinnamon. Most of the people who uploaded a video of the challenge had to cough extremely and almost choked on it.
This shows the downside of the rhizomatic sharing culture. Everyone wants to produce and share their work with the whole world. When it comes to sharing, people are trying to come up with the most ridiculous and creative innovations. However, some of the most creative contributions are very dangerous. For example the cinnamon challenge, but also planking (planking on the railing of the balcony or on a ladder).
Also the term ‘amateurism’ is important within the prosumer culture. The word already speaks for itself: it got the word ‘amateur’ in it. This reminded me of the tv-programme Jackass. I remember that they always had a warning in the beginning of an episode, telling people to ‘not try this at home’, because all the stunts were guided by professionals or something like that. This programme belongs to the ‘broadcasting’ culture in which there is one producer and there are many consumers. Viewers saw this explicit warning and (if they were smart) didn’t try the stunts at home. And even if someone wanted to try it, many people knew that it was too dangerous.
Now, in today’s prosumer culture, it is far more easier to get a video camera, do something creative like a stunt, upload it to youtube and maybe get famous. All these videos of dangerous stunts (planking, cinnamon challenge etc.) could be compared to the Jackass broadcasting, but with an important difference: Most of these prosumers are amateurs and do the stunts without any professional guidance. I also haven’t seen a video of a trend containing a warning screen in the beginning of the video (even if someone would have this, it wouldn’t make sense because it’s most likely that he’s an amateur and other amateurs will automatically follow). So this is just me talking about the negative sides of the prosumer culture. There are trends that I really like, for example the flashmob. In this case I love the prosumer culture for its creativity and sharing, but as I’ve written, creativity sometimes goes a little too far.
The panopticon and the Matrix
As in our former post I want to relate a in class introduced theory to a movie: in this case it is Foucaults theory of the panopticon and the movie the Matrix.
The Matrix is a 1999 film written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski and about a hacker who learns from rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against the controllers of the Matrix.
The way the Matrix is structured reminds me in many ways of the panopticon, we just have to take a look at the description Focault offers to describe this sort of mechanism to see the parralels:
“We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of this mechanism (Foucault 1991, p:217).”
Now we take a look at the Matrix: People are living in a machine-generated world without knowing it. In fact they live in a sort of a cell, bound to a lot of cables connecting them with the Matrix. In the Matrix they are controlled by the agents who watch every step of them, but the people living in the Matrix do not even know that they are existing.
If we look at the way Morpheus describes the Matrix to Neo:
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind (The Matrix 1999).”
The connection to the theory of the panopticon is clearly given. In my opinion it also helps understanding the conflict in the plot a little bit more and makes the actual depth of the system of the Matrix clear.
A couple of days ago I saw the movie Gamer (2009) and the concept made me immediately think of the cyborg. In this movie convicts who are on death-row are giving the chance to survive. The only thing they have to do is to survive thirty sessions in a game environment as human avatars. Through nanite technology, the cells in the human brain are replaced by cells that can be externally controlled by gamers. In the movie, the convict Kable gets controlled by the teenager Simon. The human avatars have to kill each other and all their moves are dependent on the connection between them and the gamer. There’s this delay in the connection, call the ‘ping’. This is the time the information sent by the gamer has to be received by the avatar in order to perform the tasks the gamer initiated. This ping is the weak spot of the human avatar, making him vulnerable to his opponents. [SPOILER ALERT]: In the film the chance that Kable survives the last round, gets smaller because of this ping. Other people want him dead and that’s why he has to get freedom to function without any delay (and later because he can escape the game by himself). [/SPOILER ALERT]
I thought the concept of the film was really interesting. In class we were talking about cyborgs, but I think this is whole new kind of cyborg. I can also discover several concepts we discussed during the course DAC. Through nanotechnology humans can be controlled by humans. Here, the human as a medium gets used as extension of other humans (McLuhan). Related to this is also the feedback loop between gamer – technology - human avatar. There’s also the blurring boundary of physical reality and virtual reality: for the gamer, it’s just a game (with real human beings). For the human avatar, it’s ‘real life’. He can kill real people and they can’t be resurrected, because it’s all real. There’s also the possibility that he can die himself. It’s also about absent presence, because the gamer is virtually present through human avatar, but physically absent.
I think it’s very interesting, because the film is about freedom and free will. In the movie, death-row convicts can gain freedom, but only if they give up their freedom and their free will. It’s kind of a paradox. I also think the clash between what the human avatar thinks and what the gamer makes him do is interesting. When a human avatar sees someone he wants to rescue, he can’t because his body is controlled by the gamer. The fact that the human avatar can’t talk with his gamer makes it even worse. The human avatar doesn’t have a voice and has to obey someone else.
When technology makes humans able to control other human beings, technology went too far.
In class we talked about artificial intelligence/life and cyborgs. Christiane Paul described artificial intelligence (AI) as a highly developed machine that operates on the level of human intelligence (Paul 2008: 146). A machine that normally consists out of dead material, gets a brain of its own and can process human language. You can say that technology is getting a life of its own.
Not only are we occupied with enhancing technology with the human trait of rationality, but also with enhancing humans with technology: the Cyborg. McLuhan (the medium is the message) also thinks that a medium can be seen as an extension of man. Technology as a medium can replace certain human features or enhance them through the principle of the feedback loop (the human body and technology interacting). An example of this is a pace maker that interacts with the rest of the human body and can keep someone alive. When you think of cyborgs, you might think of Robocop or terminator, but it is these small things as a pace maker, that also express notions of a cyborg. The fact that we don’t connect technological extensions like the pace maker with the notion of the cyborg, shows that the boundary between humans and machine is getting more and more blurred.
On the one hand I think it’s good that technology can be used as an extension of man. Here I’m thinking of things such as a pace maker, hearing devices or prosthetics. It can be used as a ‘cure’ when the human body lacks a certain future. You might call it a technological medicine, making the human body better again.
On the other hand, I think it’s kind of dangerous and scary. Firstly, it’s kind of a scary idea that the boundary between humans and machines gets blurred. Just because of the fact that we might not be able to distinguish humans from machines in the future (in case it gets that far). It’s also dangerous, because of the unknown. We don’t know how artificial intelligence evolves in the future and how accessible this is to regular humans. The creation of cyborgs might lead to the use of cyborgs as ‘human’ fighting machines; technologically enhanced humans can be sent to war or hired as assassins. This may sound like I have a huge imagination, but you’ll never know what the future brings.
Source: Paul, C. (2008) Digital Art, Thames & Hudson: Londen: 146.
Privacy and surveillance
When you walk in England. You’ll be filmed about 300 times a day. Almost on every corner is a security camera. Even in the Netherlands a person will be filmed everywhere, for example in public transport, nightclubs, shops and even in a hospital. Our safety has become more important than our privacy.
But where is the line between violation of privacy and the collection of information for our own safety? This can be a problem when someone is filmed without noticing it, as in the video above. This video lasts 20 seconds and really nothing is happening. But it can still be regarded as a violation of someone’s privacy. In this case the privacy of our teachers and fellow students. They had no idea that someone was filming them and I didn’t ask permission to post this video on the internet. Now everyone who visits this blog or shares this post can watch this video.
But the teachers were in front of the lecture hall and so they were aware of people watching them. This has an effect on their behavior. They know that they should act as teachers and should not dance or sing. But if this video would have been taken in their home, without their permission, it would be completely different. It changes from a coveillance (watching and being watched) to a sort of panopticum. The subject doesn’t know he is being watched so the filmer has the gaze (and so also the power).
This made me think of a Dutch television program that was broadcasted some months ago. They showed an emergency room in a hospital with patients which were between life and death. It was broadcasted without the permission of the patients or the family of the deceased. In most cases, the patients didn’t even know they were filmed at all. A lot of people were against this broadcast because of the violation of the privacy.
Many people are afraid to lose all their privacy. They were shocked that even a hospital wasn’t a safe place anymore. The filmmaker gets more and more power over a person, when he collects more and more knowledge.
Knowledge is power.
-Mirte van Rooijen-
I like that you have put the theory of surveillance into practice during class. It’s a good example that sometimes you don’t even know that you’re getting filmed and that a video can be easily uploaded to the internet where everyone can see you. If you didn’t post this on tumblr, the teachers would never know.
You’re stressing a very important point here: “where is the line between violation of privacy and the collection of information for our own safety?” I think this is a very complex question without a clear answer. If you want to collect information for our safety you always have to ‘violate’ privacy. For example, if a video surveillance camera is put into a school hall and people are just walking through the hall without nothing happening, you might say that these people’s privacy is violated. They don’t do anything but they still get filmed. Everyone can see that you’ve been through that hall and walking towards a classroom et cetera. But on the other hand, what if there’s someone walking through that hall and puts a bomb there, because there are a lot of classrooms connected to that hall and the explosion would lead to a lot of victims. In that case, you might say that his/her privacy wasn’t violated, but that it was good that he/she was getting filmed. Then it’s all about safety. I don’t think that afterwards, many people would say that this person should never have been filmed because of a violation of privacy.
There are always pros and cons. If nothing gets filmed, the chance of preventing something is smaller. But if everything gets filmed, we feel our privacy gets violated. I think that the answer to your question also depends on how people are going to use the information of the video surveillance camera. Is it just for safety, not accessible to a third party and does it get erased at the end of the week? Or is it accessible to a third party that can use the information for economic purposes? It also depends on the fact if people are keeping an eye on one certain person or that it’s just about the location getting filmed and the persons are individually not important, so it’s not necessarily about what people are doing there, but just about nothing bad happening there.
I can’t answer you question and I think nobody can. There are still lots of discussions about privacy, for example that you have to leave your fingerprints when getting an ID.
I also have one question about something you said in this part:
“But if this video would have been taken in their home, without their permission, it would be completely different. It changes from a coveillance (watching and being watched) to a sort of panopticum. The subject doesn’t know he is being watched so the filmer has the gaze (and so also the power).”
I understand that there’s a coveillance going on in the classroom, but I don’t really understand why there’s a panopticum when they’re at home. Normally they wouldn’t get watched in their home so they don’t know that there’s a possibility of getting watched (panopticum). Therefore, they’re not disciplining themselves and there’s no gaze that has a real affect on them. Or do you mean that there’s a chance neighbours hear you sing in the shower/ see you doing stuff through the window and their possible gaze is disciplining them?
A video surveillance sign of ‘Every Breath You Take’. I like the way a song can have a whole different interpretation. Now, the words sound a lot scarier than they were originally intended. The words perfectly describe our surveillance-society where everyone’s is being watched. Through internet it only got worse: companies, search engines etc. can follow your surfing behaviour.
In class we talked about the notion of ‘absent presence’. Absent presence is the idea that a person is virtually present in the digital realm, but physically absent. Through the principle of absent presence, a person’s identity can be bended: you can be a boy in the physical space, but you can represent yourself as a girl in the virtual space.
We also talked about how this identity bending can be seen as an online therapeutic session. I really liked this idea of identity bending being therapeutic. I see it as the virtual realm providing people a second chance: When you’re not in a good situation in the physical reality, having all sorts of problems or having built up a bad reputation that you just can’t rid off, the virtual platform can give you a clean slate.
When you feel like your identity contains more than you’re showing in your physical reality, you can look for identity freedom in the virtual realm. You can form your own identity the way you want it to be or you can express yourself without anyone recognizing you and judging you. You can be a famous writer on the internet, but maybe a regular bus driver in ‘real life’. At one time, people can see this virtual reality where they can freely express themselves as their new reality. It’s a space in which they can find new satisfactions.
You cannot only use the internet as a liberating platform to express several sides of your own identity or to create a new identity, but you can also use it as a platform to express your real identity. An example we talked about in class is the gay community. There are places in the world or communities where homosexuals are not fully accepted. In some cases it can be very dangerous to come out as homosexual. For those people that can’t fully express their real identity, internet communities can function as a platform to speak your mind without any judgements. It’s a way to say the things you want to say and to feel the things you want to feel when you can’t in your physical reality. Because of this, people with the same problems can connect and stimulate positive responses, helping people virtually with affects in their physical space. People get a feeling of belonging, gaining hope and they can put their physical life into perspective, knowing that there are people with the same problems as they have. In this way I think that ‘absent presence’ has a positive influence on life.