Monday, May 4, 2015 at 6:00 pm to 7:45 pm
Jim Paradis, Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing and Comparative Media Studies, MIT; Visiting Researcher, The New School
Abstract: I will offer a broad exploration of some cultural origins of modern surveillance practice as revealed in nineteenth-century urban fiction, journalism, media technologies, and monitorial agencies and institutions.
Monday, May 11, 2015 at 6:00 pm to 7:45 pm
Nick Montfort, Associate Professor of Digital Media, MIT; Visiting Researcher and Part-Time Lecturer, The New School
Abstract: Programming is usually thought of in narrow, instrumental ways, as a means of producing commodities in the form of apps and websites. However, it is also used by many to inquire about important questions in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, and can be used to make arguments about and build consensus on the direction of one’s city and world.
Lindsey Clark Anitra Lourie Zoe Middleton
Curating At The Crossroads
1. Why A Manifesto?
We’ve chosen the format of a manifesto to respond to Chi-Hui Yang’s talk for two key reasons. Curation and “high art” are often seen as inaccessible topics, and we hope that the energetic and mass-audience tone of a manifesto will help to make the subject matter more approachable. Secondly, our response to Yang’s lecture includes several re-imaginings of curatorial practice and provides loose guidelines for each. Since manifestos frequently carry both radical visions and concrete action steps, the format felt exceptionally appropriate.
2. Visual Elements
Interspersed through this work you will find graphic and visual elements meant to help convey some of our concepts. These visuals will hopefully allow for a richer understanding of our arguments and permit readers to interact with theoretical and experimental proposals on a more concrete level.
3. The Importance of Questioning
Before providing any speculative advice on how to curate, we must address the question of, well, questioning. Questioning and knowledge seeking is the bedrock of knowledge production (and a good curator is a knowledge creator par excellence).
Below we’ve provided a visual that poses some important questions to consider when approaching curation.
Types Of Curating
Chi-hui Yang challenges some of the standard forms of curation that often categorize artwork. He explains that these “safe” forms of curation do not always generate new perspectives and methods of engagement. The ever-popular retrospective format that focuses on one artist, time period, or location, can offer a somewhat limited view of the inspirations, conflicts, and influences of the work. The upcoming retrospective of Taiwanese artist Tsai Ming-liang at The Museum of the Moving Picture is an example of this style of curation. While certainly providing an effective introduction to the filmmaker, the choice to categorize the artist’s work as strictly Taiwanese is problematic. Ming-liang’s work, Yang points out, is frequently cosmopolitan, often French-financed and made for European audiences. Interacting on a broader, if more ambiguous, level with the work could yield much more compelling conversations and benefit the audience.
Radical juxtaposition is a curatorial strategy that invites complexity instead of balking at it. The goal is to present a challenging combination of works that can produce new questions and perspectives in communal contexts.
Yang admits that this strategy can be hard to swallow for some audiences, but maintains that adventurousness, like curiosity, is a crucial part of creating new knowledge. Consider, for example, the recent combination of Stanley Nelson’s film “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” and Kevin Jerome Everson’s “ Park Lanes” in The Museum of Modern Art’s Documentary Fortnight. The two films have completely different narratives, styles, settings, and distribution, yet their pairing might bring the viewers to make new and unique connections. These reflections offer an alternative way for the viewers to engage in the public conversation about race, labor and social movements.
What follows are speculative forms of curation that we’ve developed in response to Yang’s lecture. These are by no means edicts for curatorial practice, but rather experimental guidelines. These probes are meant to help viewers grapple with the complexity of some subjects and to reduce the distance between art and audience.
The Complicated Biography
The Complicated Biography is a riff on the more sanitized retrospective. In this strategy a curated show must deal with the complex or problematic elements in the artist’s past, process, or common interpretations of the artist’s work.
For example, new medical speculations as to the physical and mental state of Vincent Van Gogh (as well as the standards of treatment at the time) could help to frame his work just as interestingly as the personal letters that are frequently used to provide context for his paintings. Similarly, Paul Gauguin’s work could be presented as an example of the male gaze, part of Orientalist narratives of the South Pacific, or presented in (radical) juxtaposition to the Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki’s voyeuristic, appropriative series that captured public displays of sensuality in Tokyo’s parks almost a century after Gauguin’s death.
We’ve created the term community-oriented curating to reference curatorial strategies that not only ask difficult questions, but also design their shows with the needs of various communities (especially otherwise disenfranchised groups) in mind. Those needs should be reflected in a variety of ways — from from the themes chosen to the accessibility of the exhibition space. If one imagines a spectrum with art at one end and audience the other, there are numerous social, environmental, and cultural barriers that prevent audiences from experiencing a show. Some of these barriers are illustrated in the diagram below. A community-oriented curator must consider such concerns in mounting and promoting their show.
Embedded curating is a term we’ve developed to discuss exhibitions that are community-oriented in their approach, but also located within the physical communities where the art was created or those where the themes of the show are especially salient. An embedded show is deeply reflexive to social issues and interests of the local population.
The Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance is a gallery-education space that caters to the communities of Washington Heights and Inwood. Their current exhibit, Women in the Heights: The Human Essence, “featur[es] works by women artists of Northern Manhattan, tackling issues affecting humanity”. Although their practice closely mirrors what we’ve described above as “embedded curating” the hours of the space are prohibitive for some community members.
Mobile-adapted Curating (The Tech Solutionist Approach)
So many present-day interactions with art and film happen outside of galleries, cinemas, and museum spaces. While experiencing works in those contexts is certainly valuable, it is also extremely formal. Mobile-adapted curating allows visitors the chance to engage with art in more intimate, comfortable settings by creating content that can be consumed on tablets, smartphones and the like. This style of curating, which is already being explored through various art blogs, websites, and online magazines, offers a flexible and contemporary platform for creative expression. Additionally, in an increasingly mobile world, this method once again increases accessibility and allows the audience to pause and return to works for multiple viewings and reference work from any location.
Small-scale curating is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of mounting large shows, an ambitious small-scale curator would select a handful of works to be shown to a smaller audience in a meditative space. This approach allows for curators to ask very concise questions of a work and for visitors to “lose themselves” in a piece more easily than they would in a crowded museum hall. Small-scale curating acts in opposition to the multi-tasking impulses of the day and brings the intimacy of mobile-adapted curating to traditional art spaces.
With the increased variety of mediums and settings within the profession, curation is at a crossroads. Contemporary curators have the opportunity to address major social issues across diverse platforms and for an equally diverse audience. Curators such as Chi-hui Yang endeavour to challenge the existing patterns of art viewing and utilise his projects for social discussion and exploration. We challenge the contemporary curator to step outside the box and consider some alternative methods of art organizing. Acknowledging the diverse factors that inform art making and prioritizing viewer experience can help stimulate conversations on specific timely and critical topics and promote the civic engagement needed for a radical form of change.
Ashley Cartagena Meghan Dunn Corey Paul
In her talk “Welcome to Flatland,” Professor Stephanie Boluk recounted 17 seconds that changed both the concept of the video game and the actual gaming practice of the software mega corporation, Valve. From her dynamic play-by-play of the pro-gaming world, we can see that rivalries between nations are strong; narrative and power dynamics are still changing; the importance and influence of playing the game as a hobby and the developing metanarrative of The Game are still emerging. What we’re left wondering is not what happens to Dark Seer after The Black Swan Spectacle, but what happens to the gamer who brought him to life?
By situating those 17 seconds within the context of the gaming enterprise and, subsequently, within the “flat” or “bossless” power structure of its primary arbiter, Valve Corporation, Boluk proved that the game is not an unassuming hobby for children. Over the past twenty years, Valve has evolved from a game developer (credits include Half-Life, Dota, Portal and Left 4 Dead) to the premiere digital distribution company; it now reigns over the gaming community. As gamer and commentator Jeff Dunn said in an article on the history of Valve for GamesRadar+, “Gamers dislike many things and many people, but if there’s one company that they have universally come to revere, it’s Valve.”
In our exploration of “Welcome to Flatland” we discovered that Valve is about so much more than the game. It’s about national pride in the pro-sport area. It’s about the economic ramifications and the social impact of navigating previously uncharted territories and organizational structures. Prior to Boluk’s presentation, we never imagined a video game could have such an expansive reach or incite such diverse discussion.
Perhaps it’s not just a game, after all.
GAMING AS SPORT
Video games are similar to professional sports in their commodification and – particularly in the case of broadcast or streamed games – in their spectator culture, but most average non-gamers would contest the inclusion of gaming as sport. What is it that defines a sport? Is it the physicality? Is it the competitive nature? Maybe it’s the skill?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, sport (n) is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” While the physical element may not be as present in gaming as it is in traditional sports like baseball, basketball, and soccer, a certain degree of dexterity, hand eye coordination, and mental fitness is required for any competitive gamer.
While society debates whether or not to include pro-gaming on the list of what is or isn’t a ‘sport,’ there is a massive population of fans and players that follow and participate in the gaming community. Electronic Sports, or “eSports,” is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, South Korea, and around the world. Since the late 1990s, domestic and international gamers have traveled to various pro-division events. Capitalizing on these exponential participation rates, Michael Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni established Major League Gaming in 2002. In 2013, the League of Legends Season 3 World Championships viewership surpassed that of the BCS National Championship and Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and drew twice the audience of the World Series with a whopping 32 million viewers. Regardless of its inclusion in the traditional “sport” category, it’s obvious that gaming is popular, influential, and – as Boluk’s presentation made clear – a spectacle that demonstrates and reimagines our conception of media.
In the commoditized world of pro-gaming, where 17 seconds can make or break a career, one can earn a sizable paycheck as a gamer, but there’s little promise of career longevity or sustainability. We no longer live in a world where parents can say to their children, “There’s no money in playing video games. Go do your science homework!” Major corporate sponsorships and a rapidly growing audience have created a new breed of professional gamer who can see a successful future of million dollar take-homes in tournament prizes and endorsement deals.
Boluk outlined how pervasive gaming and play have become, particularly within the framework of the metagame (the game universe outside the game itself), and its subsequent impact as an economic entity — but what happens when the tide turns in reality and the gamer steps away from his computer?
Like traditional sports, the gamer’s playing career is often short-lived, and there are no established trajectories for life after retirement. While the industry is utilizing the talents of these young gamers, the system is failing to provide a contingency plan for their futures. In an article for CNBC, “Pro gamers story: Get big, burnout, retire young,” Tom DiChristopher stated that most gamers retire by the age of 30. Gamers who gain popularity and financial success find themselves working day and night to maintain their status. Like pro athletes, these young gamers accumulate wealth from tournaments and contracts. According to the Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated estimated that 78 percent of NFL players and 60 percent of NBA players were facing bankruptcy and serious financial stress within two to five years of retirement. Without proper guidance, young people with wealth often spiral into patterns of destructive behavior. Boluk’s comments remind us that it would be wise for the gaming industry to take initiative and develop policies regarding social responsibility especially as it pertains to young people who populate the majority of their audience.
GAMING AS CULTURE
Over the past two decades, gaming – both as a hobby and as a profession – has given rise to its own world, complete with active online forums, well-attended conferences, and community superstars with massive fan followings. YouTube, for example, plays host to a vibrant subset of the gaming community. Popular personalities like PewDiePie post videos with entertaining play-by-play commentary and critical reviews of new games.
Gaming has found solid footing as its own cultural phenomenon, subverting the mainstream to create its own complex, hierarchical society in which gamers are divided and labeled by celebrity status, income, and international conference success. Though gaming as sport has important consequences for young and often vulnerable gamers, and while a handful of gamers (like those in the YouTube community) have claimed some autonomy as independent professionals, what is often overlooked is the impact of the game behind the screen.
In a world that’s so often taken solely for entertainment value, Valve and its CEO and co-founder, Gabe Newell, have experienced an unprecedented meteoric rise to the top. Boluk asserted Valve’s immeasurable reach as a sport, a spectacle, and a metagame on both domestic and international fronts. Yet, as previously mentioned, the questions surrounding ethics and exploitation within the sport are broad and urgent. What about the work environment in the so-called “flatland”?
According to Valve’s handbook, the company defies traditional corporate structure in order to foster an environment where their talented innovators will “flourish.” Valve is flat: “It’s our shorthand way of saying that we don’t have any management, and nobody “reports
to” anybody else. We do have a founder/president, but even he isn’t your manager. This company is yours to steer — toward opportunities and away from risks.” How is it that a company so firmly rooted in a culture of commoditization successfully implemented an anti-hierarchical operating structure? Is it possible that the flatland isn’t quite as flat as the two-dimensional space it occupies on our screen?
One of the most striking takeaways from our research on Valve and on Boluk’s presentation is the impressive community of makers that’s emerged from the proliferation of Half-Life, Dota, and Valve’s other wildly successful software initiatives. The action doesn’t stop when the gamer presses the power button and the screen goes black; the oil’s still burning at the Valve offices where employees have the “freedom” to decide their own projects and are encouraged to strive for productivity, assess their own success, and call the shots on their projects.
The notion of a flat company is so counterintuitive to traditional corporate sensibilities that it’s challenging to conceptualize the breadth of Valve’s progressive non-hierarchical management structures and even more difficult to imagine the impact the company has made on the individual employee and the gamer who willingly enters into the virtual social contract.
Sure, Valve’s unconventional practices create much debate fodder; Newell is equally frank about Valve’s aggressive hiring processes as he is about their aggressive firing tactics, as evidenced by the 2013 digital scandal whereby 25 employees were fired in one day, setting the internet forums and tech blogs buzzing. But the very existence of those conversations – the innumerable blog posts, the economic case studies, the transnational alliances that have formed as a direct result of Valve’s practices and products – evidence Valve’s significance not just as a corporation but as a culture maker. Valve isn’t just asking “would you like to play this game”; Valve is asking “would you like to reconsider your role in this community?”
In an increasingly digitized world where we’re so often screaming to be noticed in 140 characters or less, where the connections that link us are more often virtual than they are physical, it’s almost heartening to see such an influential entity looking to empower the individual by defining her own place, her own work, her own community within the corporate structure. However, Valve’s “flatness” in practice may be nothing more than a facade. Boluk pointed out that Valve’s approach to utilizing the skills of their software consumers to create content (as opposed to Valve creating the content themselves) was a successful method to subvert the pitfalls of an increasing piratized digital economy. Like the Valve employees who undoubtedly feel the pressures of increased productivity and the weight of a company’s fate on their shoulders, we wonder if the flatland is actually just a land of exploitation.
GAMING AS ECONOMY
“There is no fun, there’s no work. Whether gamer, employee or billionaire CEO, what remains is productivity,” Boluk said to end her presentation. Valve built its economic structure on the power of productivity, rather than the typical model based on production, believing a flat structure will increase productivity. This flat structure goes beyond the walls of Valve’s company headquarters in Bellevue, WA, and extends to every player that comes across these games.
Steam is an Internet-based digital distribution and management platform developed by Valve. In 2014, it was estimated that 90% of Steam’s content was user-generated. Valve isn’t making games; they are making the infrastructure for gamers to make their own games.
Valve is empowering users to create their own games or add to existing games. The question then becomes, is this play or is this work? Essentially, these players are volunteering their time and intellectual property to Valve, allowing Valve to make a profit from their contributions. Of course some players do make money off the items they create. In a recent Valve blog post, Valve announced that the “total payments made to individuals for the creation of in-game items sold in Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have passed $57 million. This money was earned by over 1,500 contributors spread out across 75 countries.” The company also acknowledged who they’ve been able to pay and how much they’ve been able to pay has been limited due to how quickly this model has grown. Many who’ve created for Steam have not been paid for their work.
Valve is not a publicly traded company, so they are not required to release financial data, but it’s been estimated that their net worth is in the billions. Newell says that the company, on a per-employee basis, is more profitable than tech giants like Google and Apple. Could this be the way of the future? Will other companies want to adopt this structure of valuing productivity using a flat structure? If so, what will this mean for the consumer, and how could this change our consumer economy? Has Valve blurred the line between work and play?
Valve’s unique approach to economic structure goes beyond the games. When Valve allowed players in Steam to cash out and move their currency from game to game, Valve started to see economic difficulties that a country might encounter. They saw inflation, deflation, and even recessions. This may seem like a virtual world with just “play money,” but think of the insight these games can give to economists. The economies inside these games could allow economists to experiment in ways they would not be able to do in real life. Valve even went so far as to hire Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis to oversee Steam’s economy. He’s now taken what he learned at Valve and is working as the Finance Minister of Greece. Only time will tell if studying the economies in these games will help economists, but it certainly opens a whole new and exciting world with endless potential.
IN CONCLUSION: GAMING AS SOCIETY
Judging just by the number of unanswered questions here, it’s clear that Valve’s practices – whether considered ethical or lacking social responsibility, progressive or exploitative, impressive or terrifying – are making an impact, inspiring important conversations about the definitions, the reach, and the possibilities of media in the 21st century. In the years to come, it will interesting to watch Valve and their “flat” organizational model evolve and, as Newell hopes, proliferate other economic sectors. This increased emphasis on productivity and employee autonomy brings a potential to affect numerous areas of society; from sports to child labor practices, piracy laws to digital copyrights, something as simple as a game could make a huge impact on economy and culture.
Entering into this presentation, we did not anticipate such a lively conversation over video games. Stephanie Boluk proved that, whether for better or for worse, Valve has ushered in a new era of the game in which what you see on your screen is no longer the whole picture. We learned that these are more than video games; there’s a complicated story and an army of employees, enthusiastic hobbyists, and professional gamers behind their creation. This world of the game is a complex one that carries incredible potential for social impact. When you talk about the game, you’re no longer talking about just a game or even a metagame. You’re talking about a society of makers. Welcome to Flatland.
Marc Fiaux Michele Baptist Gabriela Benazar Acosta
The following is an audiovisual response to artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s lecture from the Understanding Media Studies (UMS) course at The New School. The video is composed of footage taken from the aforementioned lecture; Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s April 24 keynote presentation in What Now? 2015: The Politics of Listening symposium, co-organized by the Vera List Center for Art & Politics and Art In General; and Brian Larkin’s Understanding Media Studies presentation, on March 9, about the use of loudspeakers in Nigeria. Bringing together Hamdan’s two talks into one creates a temporal bridge through space and time between the speaker and his audience. This juxtaposition of the repeated lecture brings to the foreground the “meta” aspect of listening to a speech about listening. Weaving in related insights from Larkin’s lecture then turns the interaction into a dialogue between Lawrence, Brian and Lawrence — and reinforces their shared messages about the politics of listening.
Laura Di Fabio Henry Vasquez Rokiatou Coulibaly
On May 4, 2015, James Paradis, a Professor of Comparative Media Studies/Writing at MIT, gave a lecture on the cultural origins of modern surveillance practices. Paradis’s lecture focused on how surveillance is a cultural activity, and traces back to the 19th century with evidence of technological advances and surveillance prominent in fiction of the time. This was his first lecture based on a nascent research project.
Paradis began his lecture with a powerful quote from George Simmel, a German sociologist: “The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of historical heritage, and the external culture and technique of life” (1903). Simmel mirrors three major themes in Paradis’s work:
1. The city as a central locus of modern surveillance,
2. A strong sense of the tension between the individual and the formation of a strong state entity,
3. The identification of this tension in the mental state, drawing on the concept that culture is largely about the mind and the way in which the mind interacts with the materials of the surrounding area (or the body).
Cultural history adds a deeper understanding of the historical questions surrounding the phenomenon of surveillance, and the ways in which surveillance becomes an act that people can actually come to enjoy. Imaginative literature has captured this joy of surveilling by portraying the very real human instinct to observe others without them knowing. The classic examples range from the Watchman on the prowl for criminals doing things when they think no one is looking, to the more perverse Peeping Tom. Cultural history also helps us to understand the relationships between surveillance and media technologies by shedding light on how various technologies have emerged through the pursuit of surveillance to begin with.
One such great technological development was the optical telegraph, a tool that transmitted messages between two places. Invented by the Chappe Brothers in 1772, the optical telegraph was widely used by the French government during the French Revolution, and quickly developed into a huge network across France. At this time, the notion that a machine could transmit coded messages between places at a rate of 1,380 kilometers per hour (De Decker) – providing a firsthand view of what is going at a location other than where the recipient was at that exact moment – was revolutionary. It was, for all intents and purposes, the original e-mail. With this technological development, the joy of surveillance went even further to include the government. Not only was it a key aspect of war to be able to see your enemy’s position and use it to your advantage, but it also became a governmental tool beyond war to keep an eye on the land.
The optical telegraph also inspired many surveillant narratives in the literary world, particularly The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: “How wonderful it was that these various signs should be made to cleave the air with such precision as to convey to the distance of three hundred leagues the ideas and wishes of a man sitting at a table at one end of the line to another man similarly placed at the opposite extremity, and all this affected by a simple act of volition.” Dumas captures why, in its cultural reception, the optical telegraph represented a revolutionary development, as well as the potential enjoyment that could be sustained from surveillance. However, it must also be recognized that there are many potential negatives that can ensue from the practice of surveillance, whether it is through governmental surveillance or even interpersonal surveillance.
Paradis made it very clear how important surveillance is for society. Surveillance has become an aspect of our daily lives and has changed the world to make people more informed about current events. Through video recording, cell phone images and other form of surveillance, news media outlets are now able to get information to people in a rapid manner. The distribution of news was a great phenomenon, in the fact that it made news accessible for many people. People were now able to receive news regardless of their location or economic status. Today, current events like the Eric Gardner case receive a great amount of exposure due to the press. The video recording of Gardener’s last moments created a worldwide reaction that lead to the communities protesting, in effort to have their voices heard. Surveillance has made it possible for news media to get information to people through video recording and other media forms.
The Associated Press was one organization that made an effort to share news through different outlets. The Associated Press was aiming to develop news outside of NY and spread it to other places. In 1846, the Associated Press formed when five New York newspapers joined together in an effort to successfully spread news about the Mexican War through Alabama via pony express. The Associated Press encouraged a discovery of and sharing of a wider range of news extending out of the main media hubs, like New York. The spread of the press contributed to surveillance because with more eyes on the world, there were more opportunities to spread news and what was going on all over. If an incident occurred in Connecticut, residents in New York would be aware of this due to the wide spread of news. News was not limited to just the people in that county or community; in fact, it expanded worldwide. Journalists were able to reach out and collect news to spread through surveillance technology.
Paradis mentioned in his lecture the history of authorities, and of the state destroying the press to prevent the spread of ideas. The July Revolution in 1830 is one such example. This revolution was lead by King James X, who ordered the suspension of the liberty of press. Police began to raid the news presses, and angry mobs formed to attack police and protect their voice. People wanted to hear the news and stay informed; they didn’t want things hidden from them. Alexis de Tocqueville imagined a public being able to monitor the government. Tocqueville believed that Americans were able to set aside some of their selfish desires, people would be able to make a self-conscious and active political and civil society. Tocqueville believed that the state should not keep people ignorant, and they should be entitled to be informed. The idea of civilians holding the majority of the power is something that can be deemed impossible to our society; because without the rule of government or higher powers there would be no order set in place. Instead his belief formed danger, because people would be able to live without any type of control. Tocqueville thought that surveillance and the spread of information would give people the power over the government, and that power can be used for good. However, a society where people hold power without any control can be detrimental because people can be just as abusive of power as government can. Nevertheless, people should have a right to be informed of occurring events because we need to know what is going on in the society that we live in.
Nowadays some type of news surrounds many people in our society. Social media has become a big surveillance source in delivering the news instantly. People in the society can share or post information on events occurring or events they personally witnessed. Social media is a big outlet of news; many people simply sign into their Twitter of Facebook accounts to receive news before turning on the television.
Paradis touches on police, visualizing the city, and feuilliton. 1829 brought the Metropolitan Police Act in London, then in 1845, the Municipal Police Act; New York’s Metropolitan Police Act went into effect in 1857. The police were another seemingly ubiquitous surveillant force. The police act was essentially a social protection to society in the mid 1800’s. Though several police acts were passed; it was an uncertain idea to the community because people didn’t think they would be needed or for what they’ll be needed for. Police also did not want to wear uniform and The New York Times thought is a good idea for police to be wearing uniforms other wise how will we find them. If we fast forward to our modern time today; there are uniforms for almost everything and it real easy to identify a person according to the uniform they wear.
In On Duty with Inspector Field by Charles Dickens says “Inspector Field’s eye is the roving eye that searches every corner of the cellar as he talks. Inspector Field’s hand is the well-known hand that has collared half the people here, hand motioned their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, male and female friends to New South Wales. Yet Inspector Field stands in this den, the Sultan of the place. All watch him, all answer when addressed, all laugh at his jokes, all seek to propitiate him.”
Later on, daguerreotype images were used to illustrate non-fiction accounts of the city based on extensive surveillance of the public. Photographs later offered nearly-instantaneous and easily replicable representations of everyday urban life. Feuillitons, newspaper supplements that combined fictional detective stories and news, allowed another means of observing urban life; we might draw a comparison to today’s celebrity news and reality shows. Ned Buntline’s 1848 The Mysteries and Miseries of New York offered to lay before its reader “all the vice of the city, to lay open its festering sores, so that you and the good and philanthropic may see where to apply the healing balm.” Their often sensational depictions of criminality, some suggest, served as a means of differentiating obedient urban subjects from criminals.
Nowadays, we equate surveillance with closed-circuit cameras, drones, and massive databases of personal information. Police exploit their access to these technologies to monitor suspicious behavior and identify suspects – activities that could be justified as “fighting crime” – but such surveillance and data mining also represents an invasion of privacy. Fingerprints are still used to identify individuals, but a quicker means of identification is with the new technologies of facial photo scanning. Authorities also use social media to monitor conversations and posts and flag suspicious online activity. We might wonder if surveillance will grow to point where authorities can find anyone, anywhere, at anytime.