Thursday, September 13, 2007

Transparency or Surrender? Web 2.0 Open Thread

Ironically for a festival about how exposed everything is these days, reports on what actually took place at the Ars Electronica "Goodbye Privacy" festival that just ended in Linz, Austria, are somewhat hard to find online (in English anyway). Artforum was kind enough to translate part of a French report for us, but misunderstood that "Goodbye Privacy" didn't merely seem to be the main message...it was the festival's official theme this year:

"Good-bye, privacy!" That seems to have been the main message at this year's Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. As Libération's Marie Lechner reports, the electronic-arts and new-media festival took stock of the new security society and the subsequent erosion of privacy and civil rights in the name of a struggle against terrorism. "It's urgent that artists create new images," critic Brian Holmes told Libération, "new metaphors to make the public more aware of this intrusive level of surveillance."
I'm always a bit sceptical of any declaration of what's "urgent that artists create," but I am interested in new metaphors that can help me make sense of it all. But I'm still trying to get a handle on what was discovered or decided at the event. I did find one report in English, from Australia, but it's not clear if the blogger attended the event or is quoting some other source:

ARS Symposium coordinators Ina Zwerger, Armin Medosch have these words to say on privacy: We publicize our view of the world and of ourselves in weblogs and at sites like Flickr, MySpace and YouTube. Many of the services that are being marketed under the banner of Web 2.0 are based on network linkup, exchange and the voluntary revelation of private information. With the emergence of this new “public life,” the value of that which is private has changed."

So theres more participation in and desire for / access to detailed information about private individuals. .>> do this give rise to new service further architectures of surveillance and control. Reflecting on Foucalts now well plundered text on Control Societies we can ask: are we well on the way to a transparent society? or is this new openness precisely what is paving the way for the abuse of power behind the scenes?
OK, so maybe I'm gonna have to wait to understand what the answers were, but here's what the event set out to explore:

Artists, experienced network nomads, theoreticians, technologists and legal scholars will approach this year’s theme from quite different perspectives:

  • What do we have at our disposal to counter the intrusions of control and surveillance technologies?
  • How can the new cultural paradigms of Web 2.0 communities be made to generate social dynamics that can also display relevance in the real world?
  • How can we prevent the loss of individual control over our digital personas?
  • What sorts of new strategies are there to reinvent privacy in the transparent world of digital media?
  • How can we shatter the pre-configured virtual public spheres of the entertainment industries and mold new ones ourselves?
  • How can we bring the entire cultural diversity of our societies to bear in these newly emerging public, social realms?
That last one strikes me as somewhat drafted by committee, but the other questions are truly fascinating to me, especially "What do we have at our disposal to counter the intrusions of control and surveillance technologies?" I think that is the central question here. Moreover, specifically for our growing digital selves, is there an underlying threat we're not seeing by posting our thoughts/images/personal anecdotes etc. online for any potentially malicious agent to abuse? Obviously, I'm not overly concerned about that myself, but then I'm hardly the brightest bulb in the chandelier either.

I go rounds on this. I mean, I'll walk an extra five blocks or more to avoid opening my bag if requested by the police in the subway station, but am I really consistent if I surrender to what is approaching a full cavity search at our airports these days? I would demand to see a warrant if any official requested access to my home, but I'll happily post holiday snaps and detail our adventures abroad for the whole world to see. I know I retain the choice in such matters, but am I fooling myself even in that?

There are undoubtedly great things that come from the blending of the personal with the potential of new technology. The number of deliriously happy couples I know who met online being one good example. And it's indeed been a wonderful experience to meet folks who trek all the way over to the gallery (but might not have otherwise) because they enjoy the blog. The technology CAN bring people together.

But that's enough of what I think. What are your thoughts (yes, that's somewhat a trick question...by answering you're already saying you're not too concerned)? Still...show Big Brother who's boss and blog...

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9 Comments:

Blogger Ethan said...

Artist Hasan Elahi is doing interesting piece on surveillance... he's exposing his entire life online in hopes to prove he's harmless and not a terrorist.

Here's an article in Wired on Elahi & the project.

9/13/2007 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Very interesting project, Ethan. Thanks for sharing. What is most alarming in an oddly comforting way (or perhaps most comforting in an alarming way) is that his "server logs show hits from the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, and the Executive Office of the President." It's comforting to think those surveilling him are human and curious, but it's alarming to think they're wasting time and our tax dollars doing so.

Actually, having commented on a rightwing blog and then posted on a pan-political blog, though, I can tell you that hits from the US military on blogs are not at all rare (many of the rightwing bloggers work for the military).

9/13/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I resisted getting an EZPass because I felt I didn't want the government to be able to track me--not that my travels were suspect, just that I felt I wanted to hold onto any shred of privacy I might have. But, duh, with a cellphone, credit cards, my social security number in the IRS files, my life an open book to my co-op and doormen, a website and several blogs--to say nothing of the security cameras that are posted, often without our being aware--just about everywhere, I have no privacy. And neither do you.

I suppose there's some small comfort knowing that everyone else is similarly exposed. (Except the head of Google; remember how he hit the roof when he Googled himself?)

The irony here is that the folks doing the dirty deeds (terrorists, killer drug dealers) are using disposable cell phones, operating with cash, and generally staying under the radar. And if you're a president, you just erase 18 minutes of tape or, now, make those electronic records unavailable.

9/13/2007 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Gallery Ant said...

"There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life." George Eliot

http://www.nealturner.com

9/13/2007 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous joy said...

this topic always warms my heart for some reason: the double-sided coin of networks. and we may be in luck: there's a panel coming up (including artist Hasan Elahi) in bkyn on sept. 15 on this very topic:

"Sousveillance Culture panel at Conflux 2007":
http://rhizome.org/events/conflux2007

Rhizome is organizing a panel in conjunction with Conflux, on sousveillance, the practice of watching from below (sous-) rather than above (sur-). A diverse group of artists whose work engages surveillance will explore the cultural and political implications of sousveillance, which tends to be discussed as empowering when manifest as a "taking-back" of cameras or the rising-up of "little brother," but which also unfolds in an era of increased self-surveillance, encouraged by both the government and the culture of participatory and 'transparent' media.

Panelists include artists Amy Alexander, Jill. Magid and Hasan Elahi, and moderator Marisa Olson, Editor and Curator, Rhizome.

9/13/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

I s'pose it's indicative of NZ being a small country, but the main concern with privacy and things like art blogs and Artbash (see Ed_'s links) is anonymity - that commenting publicly might hurt you professionally.

I don't believe there's any new threat to privacy from having an online presence or even from new technologies in general. Sure someone can get lots of details about you from online registers etc, but those registers've always been public information. And governments have always been able to spy on you.

9/14/2007 12:00:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Actually, the State and large corporations do have something new at their disposal: the mass of data from things like loyalty schemes (which build up a profile of your spending habits) and social networking sites like Facebook, which gives you hard data on mass social behaviour for your black budget supercomputer to play with.

As far as new technologies go, the real threat is the rapid advance in brain imaging going on. They can already pick up latent prejudice and unconscious intentions to act. At the moment you have to put your head into a large machine, but once they've extended the range and shrunk it down to fit in a remote-operated flying drone...

Just cos you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you! Here's a quote by Philip K Dick from 1974:

'How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitutude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?

'Not through the old-fashioned ways of writing while you’re in the bathroom, but how does one do this in a truly future technological state? Is it possible for freedom and independence to arise in new ways under new conditions? That is, will new tyrannies abolish these protests? Or will there be new responses by the spirit that we can’t anticipate?'

9/14/2007 12:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

The worst thing about web 2.0:

Rating Sites aka "Is This Man Ugly?" (human cruelty revealed en masse)



The best thing about web 2.0:


Pornotube or Xtube (democratization of pornography challenging its market: ugly man doesn't have to pay anymore to watch you have sex )


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan

9/23/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Gianni Wise said...

Thanks for the re-posting my post on Ars Electronica.. I hadn't attended the event.. the tyranny of distance etc from Australia (20hrs one way) The post was in response to friend attending and who emailed me with details that basically makeup the post. If I find out more - links, outcomes or anything .. will send on ..
Like the reponses ... encouragingly varied. Is it our own petty paranoias or these concerns real? suspect both. My blg reflects some of my art/political obssessions these issues.

9/28/2007 10:28:00 PM  

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