Resistance and surveillance: The design of today’s digital tools makes the two inseparable. And how to think about this is a real challenge. […] When the time for my panel arrived, I highlighted a recent study in Nature on voting behavior. By altering a message designed to encourage people to vote so that it came with affirmation from a person’s social network, rather than being impersonal, the researchers had shown that they could persuade more people to participate in an election. Combine such nudges with psychological profiles, drawn from our online data, and a political campaign could achieve a level of manipulation that exceeds that possible via blunt television adverts. How might they do it in practice? Consider that some people are prone to voting conservative when confronted with fearful scenarios. If your psychological profile puts you in that group, a campaign could send you a message that ignites your fears in just the right way. And for your neighbor who gets mad at scaremongering? To her, they’ll present a commitment to a minor policy that the campaign knows she’s interested in—and make it sound like it’s a major commitment. It’s all individualized. It’s all opaque. You don’t see what she sees, and she doesn’t see what you see. Given the small margins by which elections get decided—a fact well understood by the political operatives who filled the room—I argued that it was possible that minor adjustments to Facebook or Google’s algorithms could tilt an election. I’m not sure if the operatives were as excited by this possibility as I was afraid of it. […] To make sense of the surveillance states that we live in, we need to do better than allegories and thought experiments, especially those that derive from a very different system of control. We need to consider how the power of surveillance is being imagined and used, right now, by governments and corporations. We need to update our nightmares. […] That’s what a street protest does, in its essence: It makes you feel not alone. We should leave aside the stale arguments about protests that happen on the street versus those that take place online. There’s one key feature that the Internet and the street share: They make us visible to each other. That is their power. […] To understand the actual—and truly disturbing—power of surveillance, it’s better to turn to a thinker who knows about real prisons: the Italian writer, politician, and philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who was jailed by Mussolini and did most of his work while locked up. Gramsci understood that the most powerful means of control available to a modern capitalist state is not coercion or imprisonment, but the ability to shape the world of ideas. The essence of some of Gramsci’s arguments can be seen in another great dystopian novel of the 20th century. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley envisions a state that eschews existential terror in favor of a drug, soma, that keeps its citizens happy and pliant.
OK, this is one of the best things I’ve read on Occupy Gezi Park in ages or probably ever. Last year I wrote up my thoughts on gameful design and the built environment in a chapter for The Gameful World and what emerged was mainly about legibility and resistance. This article describes in great detail both the workings and value of street protests and the mechanisms by which contemporary Western regimes (attempt to) control people. In my chapter I suggested that fuzzing, making oneself illegible, is the most effective strategy for resistance in this day and age. I think that is supported by what Zeynep Tufekci argues here.