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.

Is the Inter­net good or bad? Yes.  — Mat­ter — Medium

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.

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.