The Captured City ⊗ Against Economics ⊗ Reimagining Privacy Online Through A Spectrum of Intimacy ⊗ The internet we lost — No.103

This week → The Captured City ⊗ Against Economics ⊗ Reimagining Privacy Online Through A Spectrum of Intimacy ⊗ The internet we lost

A year ago → We Are All Bewildered Machines.

The Captured City

Jathan Sadowski at Real Life magazine coining the term Captured City to reframe the smart city. He argues that the smart city should be seen as a “socio-technical imaginary,” a form of fiction meant to wrap a positive vision of the city over a particular model of municipal development and governance. The author goes over some of the examples and articles about failures and excesses of smart cities, covers the Domain Awareness System (a joint venture between the New York Police Department and Microsoft), and Amazon’s Ring cameras installed with the collaboration of police forces. Overall, an interesting read and very valid points and worries about the model. I reckon though that even though the endpoint of military-like surveillance is correct, Sadowski makes it sound like a grand plan of transforming cities into militarized compounds. I think it is providers injecting tech everywhere to optimize cities and capture revenue streams… which happens to provide a panopticon useful for the military and/or authoritarians.

They are also selling the ideological backdrop that justifies them. This entails constructing a narrative — simultaneously aimed at convincing planners, politicians, and the public — about the crises that cities face, the changes that are necessary, and the benefits that will come by letting corporations take the reins. […]

These technologies treated the city like a battlespace, redeploying information systems originally created for military purposes for urban policing. Sensors, cameras, and other networked surveillance systems gather intelligence through quasi-militaristic methods to feed another set of systems capable of deploying resources in response. […]

The captured city, as this suite of surveillance and analytics suggests, is captured in two interrelated senses: as data and territory. The web of surveillance systems built and operated by the military-industrial complex accomplish the data capture, which enables the police to better capture the city’s territory, maintaining a data dragnet across the city and keeping tabs on targeted groups. The goal is to enmesh the city so tightly in these systems, to make them such a critical part of the urban infrastructure, that the two can never be disentangled. […]

Escaping the captured city will require a similar siege of resistance to dismantle the many layers of technological and ideological infrastructure. It will require us to target with ruthless criticism the producers and users of surveillance systems, the supply and demand for urban control. It will require us to know our enemies and name them as such.

Also → Not that I’m doubting the military will be using every possible means to collect biometric data. To wit: This Is How the U.S. Military’s Massive Facial Recognition System Works.

That weapon is a vast database, packed with millions of images of faces, irises, fingerprints, and DNA data — a biometric dragnet of anyone who has come in contact with the U.S. military abroad. The 7.4 million identities in the database range from suspected terrorists in active military zones to allied soldiers training with U.S. forces.

Against Economics

David Graeber, reviewing Robert Skidelsky’s Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics for The New York Review of Books. Before getting to the book itself, there is a long introduction / explainer concerning the recent history of economics, “heterodox” theories of economics, how money is made, by whom, and to what end. He then gets into Skidelsky and views it as “one of the most significant books to come out of the UK in recent years.”

The TL;DR might be: mainstream economic theory and application moves very slowly, and often keep thinking the same thing for decades, even in the face of copious contradictory evidence and multiple economic catastrophes. It is also wholly unfit for today’s planetary challenges.

There are way too many interesting passages in there to properly summarize, you should have a read of the whole thing.

McDonnell’s office—and Labour youth support groups—have been holding workshops and floating policy initiatives on everything from a four-day workweek and universal basic income to a Green Industrial Revolution and “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” and inviting heterodox economists to take part in popular education initiatives aimed at transforming conceptions of how the economy really works. […]

Is money best conceived of as a physical commodity, a precious substance used to facilitate exchange, or is it better to see money primarily as a credit, a bookkeeping method or circulating IOU—in any case, a social arrangement? […]

In fact, there’s absolutely no reason a modern state should fund itself primarily by appropriating a proportion of each citizen’s earnings. There are plenty of other ways to go about it. Many—such as land, wealth, commercial, or consumer taxes (any of which can be made more or less progressive)—are considerably more efficient, since creating a bureaucratic apparatus capable of monitoring citizens’ personal affairs to the degree required by an income tax system is itself enormously expensive. But this misses the real point: income tax is supposed to be intrusive and exasperating. It is meant to feel at least a little bit unfair. Like so much of classical liberalism (and contemporary neoliberalism), it is an ingenious political sleight of hand—an expansion of the bureaucratic state that also allows its leaders to pretend to advocate for small government. […]

Economic theory as it exists increasingly resembles a shed full of broken tools. This is not to say there are no useful insights here, but fundamentally the existing discipline is designed to solve another century’s problems. The problem of how to determine the optimal distribution of work and resources to create high levels of economic growth is simply not the same problem we are now facing: i.e., how to deal with increasing technological productivity, decreasing real demand for labor, and the effective management of care work, without also destroying the Earth. […]

Reimagining Privacy Online Through A Spectrum of Intimacy

An essay by Caroline Sinders and Hyphen Labs, based on their Higher Resolution exhibition for the Tate museum’s Tate Exchange program. On the concept of gradients of intimacy, how privacy online is often an on/off switch, while the way it actually works offline is much more varied and contextual; on the need for places and ways to move within such a gradient. Building on ideas by Michelle Cortese and Edward T. Hall, they worked on four privacy and intimacy metaphors: the town hall, the park bench, the living room, and the loo. Very adjacent and useful to think upon alongside Maciej Cegłowski’s The New Wilderness where he introduced the idea of “ambient privacy,” the society level intersection of everyone’s individual privacies (see my comment and select quotes in Sentiers No.86).

The lack of privacy gradients in the design of our social networks, online communication platforms, and apps facilitates everything from harassment to violations of user privacy. […]

Privacy manifested through designing better channels of intimacy—like platfoms design that allows for the engagement of smaller groups (i.e. private Slack channels or Facebook groups) or settings that allow users to share information with less people—are as important for protecting users as privacy and security protocols. […]

Proxemics, a term coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, defines the relationships between a person and their identity, their surroundings, and the social norms of the community around a person or individual. There are four zones in proxemics: the intimate, the personal, the social, and the public space. […]

? The internet we lost

Anil Dash interviewed on The Weeds podcast. Riffing off the interview: one of the things which drew my attention is when Dash talks about Facebook and Google vs the media, he talks about the ad market being made more efficient. It’s something we don’t think about often enough; the companies say they optimize but the media often use a tone almost like that revenu was stolen from them. It wasn’t, they made a living from a broken model and efficiencies took the advertisers elsewhere. It’s not coming back, however much people scream about FB and G taking all the revenue. Nothing new there, just found it interesting the Dash uses the language of the “side” he’s not on, which makes for a better argument, imho.

He also talks about Facebook almost as a lowest common denominator; the easy place to get stuff up online, but being slowly replaced by other platforms where communities move to. It reminds me of AOL, which for many was the easiest way to originally go online but as people got more fluent in “internet stuff” and other options in turn got easier, the company slowly shrank to nothing. Facebook is far form that, but losing ground in various areas.


Header image: Dorte Mandrup’s Arctic whale watching facility will “grow out of the landscape”.