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David: Hi, I'm David Peña-Guzmán, Ellie: and I'm Ellie Anderson. Welcome to Overthink. David: The podcast where two friends, Ellie: who are also professors, David: philosophy in dialogue with the everyday. Ellie: Because big ideas are within everyone's reach. David: Ellie, what sort of targeted ads are you getting these days? Ellie: I think I've been getting some for like bathing suits.

Let me check Instagram and tell you. David: I'm gonna open my Instagram too. Ellie: Oh, my gosh, this is not cute. My first one on Instagram is hardwood smoked deli meat. That is not my vibe. And my second one, cause you know, they just come one right after the other.

Oh, now this is more right. It's giving me some ad for like a linen bed spread that looks really minimalist chic, you know, in kind of like a mustard color. How about you? David: Okay, the first one that comes up for me on Instagram is a Chase ad encouraging me to go to worth-the-wait restaurants in order to earn three times the points.

Ellie: Oh, it's advertising, Chase Sapphire credit card for you. I, I have that. I get three times the points and now this has just become a Chase advertisement for which we are not paid. David: Oh my God. The next one is an underwear bathing suit thing.

It, it heard you say it and it probably automatically fed me an ad. Ellie: Oh, okay. I, I also wanna come back to that, the, the question of whether our phones are listening to us. So let's put a pin in that part. David: Yeah.

Well, we need to put a pin on it because I just need to tell you another detail about this ad. The name of this company selling really skimpy bathing suits for men is called Bang. Bang Clothes. Ellie: David.

It doesn't, it didn't listen to me. It's just because you're a gay man and it knows that. David: Oh, I'm not saying, I'm just saying like, it, it, it understands me. Ellie: Yes, yes.

That is extremely accurate. David: No, it is not. Ellie: I have not even seen this bathing suit, but all you have to tell me is that it's skimpy and it's named Bang.

And I can tell you that that's, that's a perfect, targeted ad for you. David: And then there is chocolate after that, there is a, a s'mores ad for Hershey's chocolate, which also is a good fit for me. Ellie: Oh, so we're talking like basic chocolate. We're not talking the fancy David: Oh no, no. Ellie: 79% cacao. That would be mine, probably.

David: Oh, no. When it comes to chocolate, I want the ba- I want like the Kinder egg. That's gonna ch- choke me with a toy. Like, that sounds really weird. After the skimpy underwear ad Ellie: Whoa.

Especially given the kinder eggs are cream filled. David: Oh, my God, Ellie. Ellie: Okay. This is quickly becoming NSFW. I will say I'm a Kinder Bueno girl myself. David: Oh, you know, in a lot of places in Europe they've been banned, the kinder eggs, because the, the reference here was because children keep dying on what they find inside because they eat it and they choke on it.

We just went off the rails there for a minute. Ellie: Okay. Did you know though, actually, while we're on this topic of targeted ads, do you know, you can check your Google profile, like your advertising profile.

David: I've heard that and I've, I've never done it. Do you, do you know how to do it? Ellie: Yeah. Here, I'll send you the link and I can just tell you, here's, here's like a list of mine, so it guesses, it guessed my age correctly. David: Year? Ellie: No, it says 25 to 34 years old, female, language English. And the first thing, oh, this is embarrassing. The first thing is academic conferences and publications.

It must be alphabetical. The second one is air travel, which is also accurate, but one is American football. That one is not accurate.

David: I just clicked on mine. Ellie: Okay. David: How your ads are personalized. Let's see. So it got my age correct as well. Although it turns out that we are officially in different age brackets.

Yes, I am 35 to 44, male, language English. I mean, barely just saying it kind of got that one. Um, and then the other things that it mentions for me are Air France because I do travel to Paris a lot. And then Credit Karma, because I've been worried about my credit score.

Ellie: That's why you're getting those Chase ads, David. David: Yes, that's probably right. Ellie: We'll see if we have time for credit, to talk about credit score later, but that is like a classic example of what we're gonna talk about with Deleuze and the societies of control, but back to this for a moment. So it was actually our student assistant Sam Hernandez, who did a lot of the amazing research for this episode. They're obsessed with Deleuze, so no surprise.

We're gonna talk about Deleuze. Um, who told me about this Google ad settings thing. And they also told me that you can find out what your income is. So, David, what does it say your household income is? David: It doesn't say that, that's all the information that I have. I just have age, gender or sex in this case.

Ellie: Dude, I'm rocking like hundreds of things on my page. David: No, mine only has like four or five. The only other one is like Zeni Optical, which was a company from which I bought prescription glasses back in grad school. But that's it, it doesn't say anything else. It does ask me if I wanna see fewer ads about pregnancy though, which. Ellie: Whoa, are you serious? Oh my David: Yeah.

It's like, see fewer, like, I, I wanna click on that. I wanna see fewer, maybe. I don't know. Ellie: You see fewer ads about pregnancy? David: I mean also about gambling.

Ellie: I see. I see that too. It says for me, do you wanna see? Yeah.

It's like sensitive ad categories. You wanna see less about gambling? Weight loss, alcohol. David: But I see nothing else beyond that, so. Ellie: Oh, oh, okay. Maybe your profile just isn't that well developed.

You're like incognito David, you never go on Google. David: Yeah, maybe my personality is so complex that it's illegible to the algorithm. Ellie: Well mine. Unfortunately, mine says, uh, income, lower middle and parental status, not a parent. It knows that I'm not a parent. David: Oh, wow.

So That's okay. Fair enough. All those things seem correct now. You are a lower middle class.

Are, are you not? Ellie: I don't even know what do those things even mean these days, but I, I probably Googled, for the parental status, I spent too much time Googling antinatalism when we were researching that episode. So it just thinks that I hate babies in addition to not being a parent. Okay. Any, anyway, so mine's accurate. Yours is not so accurate.

David: Yeah. I mean, no, mine was pretty accurate. Ellie: Well, I guess I should say precise. It's not, it's not inaccurate.

It's imprecise. David: The only other thing that it mentions is something called Insubuy but I don't know what that is. Maybe like a place that sells insurance.

Ellie: Bizarre. Just watch, now I'm gonna get targeted ads for Insubuy all over the place cause you said it. David: You, you're gonna get ads for, for Bang, Bang Clothes.

Ellie: Yeah, no. What's really gonna happen is you are going to purchase a Bang bathing suit. And if you don't, I will do it for you with my lower middle income.

David: And I will wear it with my 35 to 44 year old body. Today we're talking about surveillance, Ellie: In what ways are new technologies changing how we experience surveillance? David: Who is surveilling us? Governments, corporations, even ourselves? And why? Ellie: What are the dangers of widespread surveillance? And might there be any benefits to it? I wanna start by talking about Gilles Deleuze's 1990 essay, "Postscript on Societies of Control." In this short essay, Deleuze engages Foucault's work on disciplinary power, and he says that he thinks we've moved from a disciplinary society to a society of control. So, for Foucault disciplinary societies are located in the 18th and 19th centuries and reach their height at the outset of the 20th. And Deleuze, writing towards the tail end of the 20th century, thinks that quote, "New forces are knocking at the door." And these are starting to replace disciplinary societies with practices of control.

David: Yeah. Yeah, and so to understand these new practices of control, we need to be clear about what it is that Deleuze thinks they are replacing. So let me say a little bit more about Foucault's notion of disciplinary power as a way of building up to the Deleuze. Foucault introduces the notion of disciplinary power in his book, Discipline and Punish. Now, the title I need to say is already interesting because this is an episode about surveillance and in French, the title for this book is Surveiller et punir which translates into Surveil and Punish, but it was translated into English as Discipline and Punish. So there's actually a closer connection to surveillance just in, in the text than it seems from the English title.

Ellie: Yeah. Although I would also point out it's not that Discipline and Punish is a bad title. Cause we don't usually use surveil as a conjugated verb in English. So it makes sense.

But I'm glad you mentioned that David cause I think that's important like Discipline and Punish loses the element of surveillance that's in the French title. David: Yeah, the element of optics and the gaze, which is pretty central here, but the image that Foucault uses in this David: book to talk about surveillance is the panopticon, which was a proposed prison designed by the 18th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. And the panopticon, in short, is a circular building that has prison cells all around the walls and a tower of observation at the very center. Now, architecturally, what is important about this design is that the person who is inside the tower, the observing tower, can see everything that is happening in all the prison cells, but people in the prison cells cannot see who is in the middle of the observing tower or what they are doing. And psychologically what stands out about it is the logic of visibility. Because visibility here works in a top down model, people in the cells don't know when they are being watched or even if they are being watched any longer, but because the possibility is there, that means that they start watching themselves and surveilling themselves as a part of their normal way of going about their day.

And so the panopticon is just this institution of surveillance and punishment that operates in this way. Ellie: And I just wanna interject here that what you're talking about, David, you can see in the very meaning of the term surveillance, which has a French origin, David: Yes, yes. Ellie: Sur is over and veiller is to watch or to watch over. So surveillance means watching over.

David: Yeah, no, that's exactly right. And now if we switch from the architectural and the psychological point to the philosophical point, Foucault makes the claim that this panopticon style surveiller, surveillance, approach to discipline occurs not only in prisons, but also in other large scale institutions that are pretty similar to prisons. Think about the military, think about a school, you know, like the universities where we work, think about also a hospital. The thing that these institutions share with one another is that they all produce what Foucault calls, very famously, docile bodies. They subject people to incessant observation, to strategies of normalization and to all sorts of examinations where they're prodded and pricked, um, is that a term pricked and prodded? Isn't that a phrase? Yeah.

And so you, you have exams, normalization, observation, and the result of this is that in these spaces, every detail of human life is subjected to this watching over. And in fact, this uses a possible excuse for dishing out punishment. Foucault has a really wonderful phrase in his book, Discipline and Punish where he says in these spaces, quote, "no detail is unimportant." Ellie: Mmm. And I think this account of disciplinary society that you're giving David feels pretty relevant still to this day, because even though the panopticon style prison was never built, although it did have some influences on prison designs, there's this one in Philadelphia that I've been to that's really, really fascinating.

But nonetheless, this idea of you might be watched at any moment and so you end up internalizing the mechanism of watching yourself, I think is very familiar to a lot of us today, right? We feel like our phones are listening to us. Our Google advertising profile is getting personalized. And so what was happening when I was Googling the dolphin human sex, if you don't know what I'm talking about, listen to our last episode and you will find out, was that I was already worried, like, what is this going to mean for who my computer thinks I am? And I'm very aware of the fact that I'm Googling dolphin human sex for a podcast episode, but I'm doing so on university wifi. David: As was I, as was I. Ellie: But I'm, but I'm thinking about like, what if there's somebody checking my Google search history? That, that all is to say that I think it's easy to connect still with the disciplinary society.

So you might be wondering as a result, why does Deleuze think that we have moved beyond this? And his point is not that disciplinary power has gone away completely. He still thinks it continues in the present day. But nonetheless, he sees a significant rise and gradual replacement of disciplinary society with what he calls societies of control. And so if you think about the disciplinary society as creating a mold of the human, you need to be the obedient child in school.

You need to be the docile prisoner. What happens instead in a society of control is a practice that he calls modulation instead of a mold. And modulation means being this agile subject who is able to meet changing demands and changing identities at different moments.

He weirdly uses the example of surfing and he is like, it's no coincidence that surfing has replaced other sports. David: Has it? Ellie: Well, I don't know that he says replacing actually I'm I may be overseeing that, but he says that surfing is, you know, like on the rise, whatever, compared to other sports and surfing is a sport in which you are in a dynamic interaction with changing patterns of waves, as opposed to, you know, the kind of classic conditioning training that you would do for football. And what this means is that the society of control is less interested than the disciplinary society in creating homogeneity. In fact, the society of control gives us the illusion that our own uniqueness is a good thing, and that we're free to do whatever we want, but in fact, our access to information, our access to our own aspects of identities is continually modulated by tracking and surveillance.

David: So give us a concrete example of how this works, where we see this kind of modulation at work. Ellie: I was actually thinking about this just this morning right before recording. It was very eerie, in fact, how much the themes that I wanna talk about in the episode today were appearing in my life earlier today. For one, I am traveling internationally tomorrow and I was like, you know what, it's my first time traveling internationally since before COVID it's time for me to get global entry. So I applied for global entry this morning. And in order to apply for global entry, which allows you to cut the lines at the passport check when you entered the us after traveling abroad, I had to submit all of this information about myself, not only just like sex, birth date, location, where I was born, passport number, driver's license number, but also all of the residences where I've lived and all of the jobs that I've had since 2017.

David: Oh, wow. Ellie: Yes. And they say, we're gonna do a background check on you. So I am giving all of my information over to the global entry organization, whatever it's like through the us government, so that I can then have the freedom of movement of being able to travel internationally and cut the lines for passport control when I come back.

And one of the things that Deleuze says is that the societies of control instead of being closed systems are more free floating. They involve this free floating modulation that operates through passwords and codes that mark access to information. And I think this is such a great example of that because not only did I have to create a password and had to be like a really long and intense password that I swear to God, I'm gonna forget, but I also had to deliver all my information, again, so that I could be free. Then what happened right after I submitted my global entry application is that I went to a Pilates class and upon entry into the Pilates class, I had to give them my name so they could check me in and I had to show them my vaccination card. And without a vaccination card, I would not have been able to enter the class, right.

I think you're seeing the rise of this, of course, in a lot of places since COVID. And just to be clear, not making any claims about the rightness or wrongness of vaccination cards here. Cause I know that's a controversial issue, but I think this is an example of what Deleuze is talking about. And then I subject myself to maybe a disciplinary situation in which I am on this medieval torture device for 45 minutes exercising my muscles. So we've got a holdover of disciplinary society there, but it was freely chosen, right.

I chose to go to this Pilates class. I chose to get vaccinated, but then I had to be vaccinated in order to get into the class, right. So it's this illusion of freedom that's actually modulated by all of these codes and checkpoints throughout. David: Yeah. And I, I think the passport, what is it called? Global entry, which I've been thinking about getting for a long time and I'm just too lazy to do it.

I, Ellie: You have to. Sorry. I, mean, look at me, look at me. David: You are, uh, Ellie: I'm, I'm subjecting you to the society of David: You are the spokeswoman for the society of control.

Yes. But it's a really good example. And I think that the terms that Foucault and Deleuze use to talk about their theories of power, highlight the difference in how they see power playing out in society. So Foucault will talk about definitely surveillance. Watching over people, but primarily enclosed spaces where people again are punished.

Right? Surveiller et punir. So the, the focus is on surveillance and punishment. Ellie: Prison, school, hospital.

David: Yes. Deleuze talks about control. And what's interesting here is that the French term, which sounds almost the same as the English one, contrôler, has that double meaning. And so Deleuze is leaning on that doubleness on that duality to make a point about the way in which power has taken a new form that Foucault's notion of disciplinary power cannot capture. So it definitely means control as in manipulation, domination, exploitation, and even punishment, but it also refers to tracking and verification.

So for example, the people who give tickets in the Metro in Paris are called contrôler. So are the checkpoints on the side of the road for drunk driving, right? They're not gonna punish you in the same way that like a military sergeant or a prison guard will, but they are verifying your documents and tracking your movement. Just like the global entry example. So in these societies of control, according to Deleuze, you are allowed to move.

So you have a feeling of freedom and movement and agency, but you are being monitored. Ellie: David, it's so funny that you mention the contrôler in French here, because, I said this morning was just like entirely setting me up for this episode, as I'm leaving the Pilates class. One of the other women in the Pilates class I guess, was French and she's speaking in French on the phone about needing to renew her green card through the contrôler. David: Yeah.

Yeah. So again, the point is not just that they monitor, but also that they verify documents. So you sometimes need it in order to move. So like getting a stamp or getting a, an approval, not just of documents, but even of rights, that's all part of the meaning of control in French. Ellie: And I think one of the effects that the societies of control has, is to alleviate the sensation of being controlled. One of the weird things that happens in a society of control for Deleuze is that we lose the sense that we are being watched.

And so in the panopticon, you constantly have this sense of being surveilled. But strangely what happens in the societies of control is that even as surveillance expands and we know that we're being watched, we actually don't really care. And we maybe modulate our behavior less around that than we ordinarily would. So for instance, the whole point of global entry for me is to avoid the time, inconvenience, and bad feelings of having to deal with passport control when I come back to the US from traveling abroad. And so even though I had the sense of surveillance while I was applying for global entry, if I get approved for it, which hopefully I will, then I can forego the feelings that I'm used to having when I get back into the US, which are feelings of frustration, impatience, etcetera.

And so the end goal of this control is to make me feel like I'm not being controlled to make me feel freer. David: Yeah. So it conceals the optic dynamics by making it seem as if there are no optic dynamics at play, right? Like nobody's being seen.

But you know, the truth is that when thinking about this affective dimension of surveillance, I still kind of care. I still get creeped out whenever I have a targeted ad. Ellie: The Bang swimwear ad David: Or the Hershey's chocolate or when you've just had a discussion with somebody about X, Y, or Z and an ad pops up right away. So, I mean, I wouldn't wanna conflate that with the sense of surveillance that you have in the kinds of spaces that Foucault is talking about, like the prison. But for me, the affective dimension doesn't disappear. But I think for a lot of people, it not only disappears, many people kind of embrace it.

They're like, yeah, I love that it's telling me what I want. It knows what I want. So it, you know, it's not, it's not just concealing, it's transvaluating the feeling. Ellie: Yeah.

Yeah. I, I resent when the targeted ads get me, but I'm also like, oh, actually I kind of do want that. Our phones, our phones are listening to us, right? I mean, I know people say that they're not, but it's just too uncanny. I feel like they can't not be. David: Yeah, there was this moment when people were like, oh, it's not that the phones are listening to us.

It's that the algorithms are so powerful that they truly predict the kinds of conversations that we're gonna have with one another. And that has always seemed deeply wrong to me. I think go for the easiest explanation, which is that your phones are picking up what you're saying. Ellie: Occam's razor baby. So the, the companies say that they only listen for trigger words. So for instance, if you have an Alexa Home, Amazon's only listening.

Once you say, Hey, Alexa, and then they record after that, I don't David: I mean, I dunno. I also read an article that said that Apple recognized that there was a glitch in the iPhone that caused them to listen a little bit more than they were supposed to. And I'm like, yeah, we can call it a glitch or an experiment. I don't know. I remain convinced that phones are listening to us. I know that makes me sound somewhat suspicious and Ellie: uh, yeah, you accused me when I was talking about dolphin sex last episode of being a conspiracy theorist.

So now who's a conspiracy theorist? David: Well, there are some conspiracies that are true and some conspiracies that are false as we learn from Brian Keeley in our episode on conspiracies. Mine is true, yours is false. Ellie: Convenient. David: But I mean independently of what their phones are or aren't listening to us. I think this leads directly to the question: who is doing the listening on the other end? Who is doing the surveilling? Obviously, in a sense it's the companies, right? Like Google, Instagram, Facebook, whatever.

But a paper in the British Journal of Sociology entitled "The Surveillant Assemblage" argues that surveillance is not even carried out by institutions or, or individual departments that can be held accountable any longer. But by these decentralized webs of interest, like a weird conglomeration of private, political, economic, and even automated systems, which makes the surveillance nowadays much harder to spot and much harder to resist because it's no longer The Man or Big Brother who is doing the watching from, you know, the center of that panopticon tower in, um, Foucault's model. Instead we're confronted with this fluid web of actors that are anonymous and unidentifiable. Ellie: Mmm.

That's almost scarier, right? It's not Big Brother. It's big inchoate web of algorithms, data, and maybe occasionally people who are doing the surveilling. David: Yeah, no, that's right. It's a goo.

Ellie: Yeah. Well, and I think, I think if that's the answer, the goo instead of a who is the answer to who is surveilling us. It's like, it's not a who it's a goo just, just, to make that point extra, extra clear, I wonder if we can also say this on the other side of the coin in answer to the question who is being surveilled. Right. If we think back to that Google ad profile that wasn't you or me, it was a collection of traits.

Right? My Google ad profile was not a who, it was a goo. David: Yeah, a goo of, of data points, presumably, right. This collection. And this is what Roger Clark calls dataveillance, which I really like as a concept, because much surveillance nowadays is about surveilling, compiling, and analyzing data rather than tracking or even targeting individual bodies. Right? Like our physical, organic bodies.

And the prevalence of this kind of dataveillance ends up upending some of our popular conceptions about surveillance because we're no longer dealing with something that is disciplining us from without. We're talking about a force that we sometimes consent to freely. And that, as we've said is also unidentifiable, anonymous, and fluid, and gooey, I guess that's, the, the metaphor that we're going uh, dataveillance as, as dispersed. Ellie: Deleuze wrote "Postscript on the Societies of Control" in 1990. And this was when the internet was really just taking off since then, of course, new technologies have totally proliferated, producing new modes of surveillance that go beyond what he envisioned. David: Yeah.

I mean, think about Alexa, you mentioned that Google Home, Fitbit, smartphones, obviously, but I've also heard about things like sleep trackers, period trackers and live locations. So, you know, sheesh, like everything about us is part of this society of control nowadays. Ellie: Yeah, I am very weirded out by people constantly sharing their location. And I've heard that among Gen Z, snap maps which is the Snapchat feature David: Yes. I've heard Ellie: that shows you on a map, yeah, is, is popular.

This is what our student Sam reports to us. David: No, I had heard about it before, before Sam mentioned it. Ellie: Okay, ahead, ahead of the curve.

I see. But all of these technologies involve that concept that you introduced a moment ago, David, which is dataveillance, and in the article Surveillant Assemblages, which you mentioned in the last segment, and I read as well, the author suggests that what has happened with this rise of surveillance via big data is the creation of what they call data doubles and your data double, I'm fascinated by this, is the version of you that is abstracted from your physical body and is instead comprised of all of the data about you reassembled by algorithms, into what it pictures you to be like. Right? So this is the Google ad profile that we shared earlier. The data double is really interesting to me because it suggests that unlike in the disciplinary society where it was the physical body and the mind that was the site of surveillance, now it's actually the data double that becomes the new target for the application of power. David: And they compare our data double to the monster in Frankenstein, which is stitched together from very different materials.

Um, you know, except that in the novel, the creature is made of organic things like flesh and bones. Whereas they say our data doubles are equally Frankensteinian, but they are made of bits of information. And here's a quote that I wanna share with our listeners where this comparison is introduced.

"In the figure of a body assembled from the parts of different corpses, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein spoke to early modern anxieties about the potential consequences of unrestrained science and technology. Today, however, we are witnessing the formation and coalescence of a new type of body, which transcends human corporeality and reduces flesh to pure information." End quote. Ellie: Mm.

So the targeted ad, it's not targeting me as a real person in a real body, even though I am the real person with a Chase Sapphire credit card. Um, paid ad. No, just kidding.

But it's instead targeting me as a collection of consumption habits. Maybe that's actually the same thing as me as a real person with a credit card, but then it's all the creepier, right? That it gets me right. So much of the time Google thinks that I have an interest in football that I don't, but it was right about me on so many other things. The difference between data double and real self is rapidly dissolving.

David: organic self with a credit card, definitely is already a Frankensteinian collection of parts that don't make a lot of sense together. Ellie Ellie: Oh my God. And what even is the organic self today when everybody's like wearing their Google watch and maybe Google Glass at some point soon enough. But this reminds me of Deleuze's idea of what he calls dividuals in the "Postscript on the Societies of Control." He basically says that in the societies of control, individuals become dividuals and masses become samples, data markets, and banks.

And so there's no longer this single atomic individual, but rather me as a collection or composite of consumption, habits, behaviors, passwords that grant me access to different things at different times. David: So I thi- I think this is a classical Deleuze move to appeal to images of flows and currents and liquid. And I want us to think a little bit more about the, the kind of dividual that we become or what we've been describing as the data double of the self that emerges in societies of control. And the kind of surveillance or dataveillance that produces this data double. The authors of that article that we've been talking about, Kevin Haggerty and Richard Ericsonson give a lot of concrete examples about these forms of dataveillance. Yeah, besides Frankensteinian, uh, virtual avatars, you know, they talk about, for example, the pervasiveness of CCTV technology in big cities.

Ellie: What's CCTV? David: You know, like when, um, you have cameras that record, like in parking lots, and then they feed that to a single source. Ellie: Oh, I see. I see. David: You know, they talk about big data collaborations between police departments and private entities like insurance companies, banks, things like that.

They talk about tracking technologies like chip implants, which are becoming increasingly popular. And they talk about this thing called HUGS, which is a new technology that some hospitals are using. It's literally.

Ellie: They talk about this thing called hugs. David: HUGS. It's an acronym.

It's all uppercase, uh, letters, but it's basically electronic ankle monitors for babies at the hospital, so that if anybody moves them, the babies are tracked. And at any point, you know exactly where they are in the hospital. So to prevent like, I don't know, child abductions. Ellie: Babies, pets, and criminals. The three categories that we allow to have tracking devices. David: Yeah, without their consent, the rest of us just consent to them freely and even pay for them.

Ellie: We just keep our phones in our pockets at all time, and then look at our step count and are like, oh wow. I did good. I did well today. David: Oh my God. I will wanna talk about the step count because you know, like they give these examples of technology that is created by government entities and these other large institutions. But I think when we talk about dataveillance, we have to go a little bit beyond that and also consider what I would call auto surveillance or auto dataveillance, which is when we surveil ourselves and even consent to other people, surveilling us in exchange for some menial benefit.

And I think these cases of auto surveillance are scarier because again, they conceal the power dynamics at work by making the surveillance seem voluntary. And like, it's just this magical extension of my powers as a free agent when in reality that consent and that will to be surveilled, lead to new domains of my life getting caught up in this web of control. And that includes literally the interiority of the body, like the surveillance of our bodily functions and bodily rhythms.

So I have a couple of friends who have an Apple watch and who have consented to their biomarkers being tracked in exchange for their Apple watch, literally telling them when they should stand up and go for a walk because they've been sitting down for too long. Or what I, what I heard recently is to be told by your Apple watch when you should water. Ellie: No. I didn't know about that one.

David: Yeah. Yeah. Ellie: As if, as if you cannot know, you're like, I wonder if I am thirsty right now. My phone says I still have 20 more minutes before I must drink. David: Yeah.

And I think here the reasoning perhaps is that when you consent to giving your data in exchange for these menial benefits, the benefit, an additional benefit, I would say is that there's a kind of offloading of cognitive burden, right? Like not having to think about how long I've been sitting, not having to think about the fact that I, my mouth is desiccated, which apparently I wouldn't know without my Apple watch. And I think this as so deeply symptomatic of the brutality of capitalism, which just leaves us so tired and depleted at the end of the day that we start experiencing anything that might require some element of energy, some quantity of effort, like thinking itself as work. And so we try to offload it onto others. And, you know, I suspect this is the reason why so many people say that when they get off work, all they wanna do is like turn their brains off.

So, on my view, I think we are consenting to new and dangerous modes of surveillance in exchange for these technologies basically offloading the essence of our humanity. Like our bodiliness. Ellie: Yeah, I think in general, ways that we split up our experience of selfhood are fascinating and not necessarily bad.

And so this idea that I am splitting myself into the one surveilled and the one surveilling obviously has some problems with it as does, you know, the offloading that you're talking about David, but I also think there can be. Something liberating about it, although maybe I'm just drinking the Kool-Aid of feeling free, but for instance, I really, i, I really enjoy tracking my time and realizing that what I thought I spent my day doing is actually kind of different from how I actually spent my time during the day and I do this, not through some app, but rather just through jotting it down on my phone. And I think that this actually has a lot in common with previous practices of journaling that we see, for instance, going back to ancient Rome with the stoic or in the Renaissance with people like Montaigne taking stock of what you're doing.

So I don't necessarily think that recording your activities and the splitting of the self that that involves is a nefarious form of surveillance. But I also do think that, of course, at the end of the day, there's a danger that we end up seeing ourselves as the data double, rather than as the multiplicitous, multifarious constantly in process self that we are. David: Yeah.

I think you're right that we shouldn't think about recording aspects of the self as essentially, or inherently dangerous with the caveat to that in this case, we are recording ourselves in the act of giving away information about us. Ellie: Mm. David: then gets weaponized, you know, against us in the form of targeted advertisements and all forms of political and economic manipulations.

But I, I really like that you point to this problem of seeing ourselves as the data double, right, where we forget that it's actually an abstraction and we come to just identify with it so much that the boundary between let's say the real self and the virtual self kind of collapses. This is something that the philosopher Byung Chul-Han talks about at length in his book, In the Swarm, where he says that we are letting these technologies penetrate our lives so deeply that nowadays there is no difference between surveillance on the one hand and perception on the other. He gives the example of Google Glass, which, you know, it never really took off. It didn't become as popular as like the iPhone as of yet, but it did get created. It did make it onto the market and people did buy it and use it. And with Google Glass, according to Byung Chul-Han, you see the absolute collapse between the virtual and the organic, because as he says, the eye literally becomes a camera.

So the act of me seeing something and perceiving is now indistinguishable from me acting as a camera that records information and sense it to in this case, Apple. Ellie: Any watching becomes watching over. David: Yeah. Ellie: By the goo.

David: Apple watching. Ellie: Enjoying Overthink? Please consider supporting the podcast by joining our Patreon. We're an independent, self-supporting podcast and as a subscriber, you can help us cover key production costs as well as gaining access to an exclusive digital library of bonus content and more. Surveillance gets a bad rap and understandably so for reasons that we've mentioned, but it's not universally reviled. And in fact, there's a professor of Information Studies who has the wonderful name of Anders Albrechtslund. David: Great job, you did really well.

Ellie: Yeah, I kind of miff the last name, but we'll, we'll see how it goes, Albrechtslund. Okay. That was better. That was better.

That was quick. Anyway, Albrechtslund argues that online surveillance through social media can actually be a mutual practice that doesn't involve a sort of vertical power structure. It's horizontal and reciprocal, and this mutual practice can really lead to joy and he calls this participatory surveillance. So he adopts the term surveillance, but he just says it's participatory and not universally bad. And participatory surveillance basically just refers to the fact that we love to watch others and be watched by them.

What do you think about this, David? David: Yeah. I mean, so do like, like peeping Toms. It doesn't mean that there isn't nothing nefarious about that, but I, I mean, in all fairness, Ellie: I don't think they like to be watched.

David: but they do like to watch and participate where they're not invited. And I mean, you know this about me, Ellie, that this doesn't resonate with me very well, especially on- online. I've resisted things like Instagram for a long time. I only got Instagram when we started our collaboration together, even Twitter, I just joined in 2022, you know, because I was told that this is the place to promote a book.

And I really dislike these places where participatory surveillance takes the form of everything about ourselves being exposed in platforms that are not conducive to meaningful engagement. So, I don't know, maybe Anders Albrechtslund means something different, uh, different than what I have in mind. But my first instinct is to recoil a little bit. Ellie: I actually really like Instagram.

I love seeing others' posts. I think it's really entertaining. Not everybody, some people post like bad things, um, that are boring and cheugy.

I don't, I don't mean like, no, I mean, not everybody's entertaining to watch, but I actually really like staying on top of what my friends are doing through seeing their posts on Instagram. And I really enjoy posting as well. I think it plays to the side of me that likes to craft a self that has an aesthetic dimension. And I don't think of that as an inherently superficial or self surveilling, even, experience.

I don't even know if I'd call it participatory surveillance. It's just like watching and being watched David: Yeah. Yeah, you like the gaze Ellie: Yeah, I don't think we can avoid it, so we might as well lean into it. Depends on the type of gaze, but that's, that's a different topic. David: You're like I am approaching any kind of intersubjective relationship with like monocles, just to like, not miss any detail.

Ellie: As long as they're chic. No, just kidding. David: Well, I don't know if I buy this whole notion of participatory surveillance as being joyful, but I came across another form of seemingly positive surveillance thanks to our assistant Sam's research that I am pretty compelled by. And that is the idea that the expansion of surveillance might offer modes of resistance against large scale institutions, whether that's private companies or typically the state.

Rather than just being watched, now we are in a position to watch back so we can act through our own capacity to act as a surveillant, as a check on centralized forms of power. Ellie: Oh yeah, super interesting. David: And the theorist, Steve Mann has coined the term "sousveillance" to describe this kind of watching back and checking back on power. And it's upon on the French route that you alluded to earlier, you know, we, you mentioned that surveillance comes from "sur," which means over and in French, the word "sous," s-o-u-s, means under.

It's the opposite of "sur." And so when he talks about sousveillance, what he's talking about is that kind of watching from below. So, uh, a grassroots mode of surveillance, which again, is in contrast with surveillance. As, for example, Foucault, would've understood it, which is being watched from above, you know, from the tower at the center of the panopticon.

Ellie: I think this is so interesting. And one thing that it brings to mind for me is how live streaming police interactions increases the accountability of the state. So when George Floyd was murdered by police in 2020, There was a teenager named Darnella Frazier who was walking down the street and who ended up capturing it on video. And it's Frazier's footage that led to not only the public attention that George Floyd's death received, but also to the criminal charges against the four police officers who were involved. And it was essential that Frazier filmed this because the Minneapolis Police Department, unsurprisingly lied initially and gave a different account of George Floyd's death that was in contrast with Frazier's footage. And so when Frazier posted the video and people got to see what had actually happened.

The narrative completely changed. And there was then this huge movement, right, in American culture that happened in 2020 Frazier actually won an honorary Pulitzer Prize for this. David: Oh, I didn't know that, that she won a Pulitzer. Ellie: And I think what Frazier is doing is surveilling the state's agents back, right? Police officers are classic examples of people with disciplinary power and Frazier is able to use the society of control to watch back and also able to distribute this on social media. David: Yeah, Yeah no, that's right. And I think connected to this is the recent movement for police officers to wear body cams and have them on at all times, or at least when they're interacting with any other person.

I mean, there might be a slight difference here, because in the case of the body cam movement, we're talking about the state surveilling itself rather than being surveilled by those that it normally surveils, but still, I mean, it's not the state that is pushing for this movement. It's, uh, you know, private citizens who have an interest in protecting themselves against the state. So still a kind of accountability. Although, I think that body cams for police officers are a really shallow solution to the problem of the prison industrial complex, a lot of people support them again, as a way of checking back against police brutality, by creating the conditions for the possibility for accountability. Sadly, I think there is another side to this, which is that for people of color and especially Black people and less surveillance by the state ends up being the price that has to be paid for the right to live, you know, like we exchange privacy for life.

Ellie: Yeah. What does it say about our society if a Black person can only feel safe when a police officer is wearing a body cam, and we know that, you know, even that doesn't actually change things that much, there have been a lot of body cam wearing police officers who have still gotten off for really egregious things. David: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And still, I think this points to a metamorphosis in how we relate to surveilled spaces. So maybe a kind of transformation in our relationship to visibility and invisibility, because before, when you think about most of the 20th century and the people who are writing about surveillance at this time, including Foucault, the idea was that places that are under surveillance are dangerous because that's where you're under the gaze of another, you know, you're like a prey in the middle of the Savanna being watched, but not really knowing who's watching you. And it's only in the shadows that you're kind of free because you can hide.

So think about the idea of like going off the grid, you know, where you cannot be seen by those who wanna get you, but here with these movements for increased and participatory surveillance, What we have is a shift where suddenly it's the spotlight that offers some semblance of security through visibility while it's in the shadows that really insidious forms of, of abuse take place. Ellie: Yeah and I think what you're saying, David, really speaks to the rise of visuality in our culture too, where it's increasingly the case that whatever happens needs to be exposed in order for us to know that it happened, to feel assured that it happened. And, you know, there's that safety side that you're talking about. There's also the really banal side of like the pics or it didn't happen situation, right. Which I think also speaks to the auto surveillance where auto surveilling when we are out at dinner and wanting to take a photo of ourselves to remember it. Even though that form of auto surveillance speaks to a much more superficial side of our culture than the police brutality against people of color and Black people, in particular, that we're talking about here, there is nonetheless, I think a throughline between those.

Whether we wanna call it a society of control along with Deleuze or follow this concept of dataveillance, we increasingly lose our individuality as we become the data double. David: Yeah, so maybe we can even think about moving from disciplinary societies to societies of control to now something like societies of visibility, where visibility is the dominant paradigm for thinking about politics. We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ellie: You can find us at where you can email us with questions, feedback, or even requests for life advice. David: You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter at @overthink_pod. We wanna thank our audio editor, Aaron Morgan, as well as our production assistant Sunny Jeong-Eimer. Ellie: Samuel PK Smith for the original music and Trevor Ames for our logo and to our listeners, thanks so much for Overthinking with us.

2022-07-08 19:31

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