Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Deleuze & Dividuals

Goodbye individuals, hello dividuals. This is the new language of control, according to Deleuze. Instead of seeing people as value, it's actually the data produced by individuals that becomes valuable in today's capitalist society. Capitalism today is for a higher-order production - it no longer follows the typical factory model. Instead, the new model of capitalism is wrapped up in marketing. Marketing has become the driving force of consumption today and the actual products have taken the backseat. And what makes marketing even more effective? The fact that an extensive amount of individuals' information is collected through data and available for analysis.

The article "Spinoza and Us" explains that the body is defined by relations of motion and rest and development... It's a little confusing, but essentially, this description reminds me that networked individuals are most valuable today - not static individuals. Facebook doesn't care about Erica Olmstead. Facebook cares about what items Erica Olmstead likes, who she's friends with, what links she posts on her wall, which public figures she follows, and so on. The value is continuously changing, Erica's network is expanding, and data miners are loving it.

The ideas presented in Haggerty and Ericson's article, "The Surveillant Assemblage" were easier to follow. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, the authors explore the abstraction of human bodies into data flows, or "data doubles". In this way, everything that we do (that can be traced through data) is reassembled into some meaningful way - clearly, for the purpose of making a profit. This idea is similar to what I mentioned above from Deleuze's articles, but the argument is more clear to me. In the surveillant assemblage, people are commodified; their data flows are closely monitored and used by companies for the purpose of making profit. Similar to how Arvidsson discussed branding of life and programmed individuals, the surveillant assemblage allows for the manufacturing of desires. The surveillant assemblage makes it easier to market specifically to individuals as so much of their information is available.

But, without the interactions between the human body and technology, there could be no data double, or cyborg, and our bodies wouldn't be nearly as valuable; our flows could not be traced, analyzed, commodified. The surveillant assemblage relies on machines to make and record observations, increasing fragmentation of the human body and our identities. The surveillant assemblage does not result from any single technology; rather, it is the culmination of technological capabilities that enhance the monitoring of information in all walks of life...

Here's a good question that the article brings up: should individuals receive compensation for the sale of personal information? Well it seems like they should since they're gaining so much value from individuals! Instead of compensation in dollars, however, companies are a bit wiser (more manipulative) in their method of compensation. Often times, companies offer an incentive to giving up your information. For example, if you fill out a survey you will get a coupon. Or, if you click on a certain link, you'll get the chance of winning something. Similar methods involve contests that involve participation, but only one "winner" is actually compensated. A less subtle way of compensation is the benefit of using a website, such as Facebook. Users agree to the terms, in exchange to be able to socialize and communicate online. Evidently, all of these examples do not involve direct payments; instead, users/consumers are offered something to make them feel like giving up their information is "worth it". This is an exquisite guise for the marketing companies...all they have to do is make people feel like its more convenient to give away their information than not.

Are we programmed individuals?

I think so much of daily life is overtaken by the desire to produce and the desire to be as efficient as possible. These values are so engrained in North American culture. We all have schedules and deadlines, and we freak out when things don't get done within a specific time frame. We're expected to go through institutions like school and university, so that we can add more value to our existence, so that we can get a job and work and contribute to the advancement of society, so that north america continues to be the biggest and the best.

Arvidsson's aritcle, "On the Prehistory of the Panoptic Sort" examines how surveillance is a key component of contemporary capitalist society, and how it has come to the point where "life itself comes to generate value"(458). As Arvidsson brings up the idea thatliving in a commercialized and surveilled society entails that individuals are producing data doubles, it is easy to understand how people`s lives can be commodified. When I think about my activities on social networks and websites and how so many companies generate value based off of the data I produce simply when I`m browsing and entertaining myself, I think it's unfair. But that is our reality. It is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to escape commodification as the technology we use on a daily basis is constantly monitoring us.

While Arvidsson claims that life in all its walks is constituted as productive labour, I disagree
that the commodification of individuals is currently this extreme - nevertheless, the trends are pointing us in that direction in the near future. It's a scary thought to refer to us as "programmed individuals" - but when I think about it, how do I know that my tastes and activities are my own? How do I know that I visited a website for my own interest, and not because of some advertisement I saw? How do I know that I purchased a new shirt because I really wanted it and not because I was told that I wanted it. Today, advertisements are incorporated into life to the point where they are ubiquitous and consumers no longer make choices on their own. I think the blurring of individuals' desires with companies' desires is becoming more common as a result of the increase in technologies we use on a daily basis and of course, the data mining and surveillance that occurs along with that. Companies don't need to guess at consumer wants and trends; instead, they can monitor data doubles, predict what the individuals will want, and advertise accordingly.

The more technology we use, the more information we give away as we produce data doubles for ourselves and allow increasing access to our information. Capitalism is the driving force, but what can we do to escape it? If we're not connected, if we're not online, our social lives and communication reaches are extremely limited. There is a price to pay, a consequence, if we opt out of participating.

In this week's seminar presentation, Alicia brought up the example of Odesk in relation to the way that new technologies can be used to increase the surveillance of an employee's behavior, thus increasing control of the employer. As discussed in class, Odesk is undoubtedly modelled after scientific management and capitalist values because through surveillance, Odesk promises to increase the efficiency of employees and eliminate slacking or multitasking. Interestingly, I can relate to Odesk because I work remotely for the Federal Government. I am not under constant sureillance, as an individual with Odesk would be, but the work that I produce is monitored to ensure that I am actually working. The fact that my productivity is monitored and measured, pressures me to be more efficient in my work than if I were working physically in my government office. When I am physically at the office, my presence matters more to my boss than my productivity. I find it interesting to contrast my experience with the same job in both physical and online environments, because it shows how the method of surveillance affects the amount of control in the relationship.This difference highlights how control is strengthened in data-based environments, where all of a person's actions are recorded and monitored.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Privacy... awareness is half of it

Judith Thomson`s discussion of privacy puts all of our worries into a practical perspective. If you’re having a conversation in your house and you don’t want outsiders to hear it, then you should have your windows closed and you should take the measures that you can to ensure that nobody can hear you. If you leave your door and windows open then you can’t keep people from overhearing – you are accountable for your own privacy. It’s the same when using the web. Some people are highly cautious about their privacy when surfing the web. Some even go to lengths to use IP scramblers so they can surf the web anonymously.

In my opinion, the concept of privacy is unique to every individual. We each see and value privacy differently; our vision of privacy is shaped by our knowledge of its implications and our personal values. And as Thomson repeats in her article, the right to privacy is also overlapping with other rights. It’s clear that the concept of privacy is very difficult to define. But if we can’t define it, how can we protect it?

I understand that companies keep track of my actions on shopping websites and use that information in data mining. In this way, I know I am accountable for my actions online, just as I am accountable for my actions in physical public space – and there`s nothing private about either one. When I’m meandering through a store, I can’t keep the clerks from watching me and taking note of my interests. Likewise, when I’m shopping online, I know that something is keeping track of the items I’ve viewed. This is something I have to accept if I want to shop online. Not everyone sees it this way and many people are shocked to find that just because they are surfing the internet alone in a room, doesn`t mean they have complete privacy.

It is hard for average web users to grasp the concept that their actions online do not go unseen simply because there is no physical body watching them. Many people assume that because they use their computers in the privacy of their home, they are private in what they do online. Windows are automatically open when one starts using the Internet – individuals have to go to the length of shutting the windows before they want to do something privately. The problem when it comes to protecting privacy online is that is in increasingly taking more technical skills to ensure one’s privacy. Very few people have the technical skills (and the awareness of the tracking capabilities of most websites) to make sure that they are protected if they want to be. Professional techy people are hired for web companies to write codes that track IPs, collect data, implant cookies, etc. while the majority of internet users barely understand what information they are giving away freely and don’t know where to begin to protect themselves online. This is the difference between Thomson’s practical analyses and privacy online. It’s not as simple as shutting a window. It’s almost impossible to ensure that we have constructed for ourselves impenetrable walls. To protect privacy online, one must take an extra length of effort: one must have the awareness of privacy`s importance, plus technical skills and time to go about protecting oneself. Unfortunately, many of us don`t have the extra time, and many others just can`t be bothered.

Perhaps if there was greater awareness of the serious implications of protecting identity and privacy online, more people would take the extra length of effort.