Monday, May 09, 2005

Sousveillance - left or right?

Stephan (blog), I read about sousveillance quite some time ago, but I could never fully understand it. I never doubted that it's ultimately a good technology and that it's already feasible to some extent, I just couldn't see (from all the articles I read) what is it ultimately useful for, beyond pissing off department store clerks and security officers. ;)

Since I didn't have much of an idea of what sousveillance is going to be used for, I couldn't really understand how it fit withing different parts of the political compass. After some deliberation with a cup of tea, though, I got a couple of ideas. This may not make much sense and may be ultimately wrong, but that's how I see it now. This applies mostly to "inverse surveillance" sousveillance.

First, in a liberatrian society (if such can exist) people definitely have it the easiest to justify sousveillance - the individual just has the right to do it and noone should be able to limit his freedom. Liberatrians won't have much use for it, though, since the libertarian government doesn't actually care one way or the other about anything its citizens may record.

People in socialist countries might be luckier. While the critics may remember the tightly controlled xerox machines and limits on free speech, it should be noted that only subversive speech was unwelcome (and of course, spying in secret cities, military bases, etc.). The Soviet government and the soviet society in general welcomed communications and feedback, from wall newspapers to letters to Pravda and the Central Committee. One can't tell that for certain, but I suspect that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would not particularly mind e-mails (even MMSed) with complains and suggestions with photos and videos attached. :)

But still, I can see only a limited use for sousveillance in a socialist state. It looks to my eyes that sousveillance would benefit the most people living in oppressive, but democratic (theocracies and military dictatorships don't qualify) societies. That is, people living in ordinary Western capitalist democratic countries, such as the US or many Western European countries. In these countries there is plenty of material that is:

  1. not widely known
  2. should be filmed and revealed
  3. to some extent covered by the government
  4. accessible to the people
  5. can lead to changes if made public

To look at the sousveillance in general (not just at inverse surveillance), we can consider the deeper differences between libertarians/right and socialists/left (not the only dichotomic division, but let's tackle this first). Very simply put, libertarians consider the individual most important, while socialists consider the society most important. It's obviously a crude simplification, but without the society there is little use for personal recordings, except for the functional (memory aid). The potential of sousveillance is utilized only when we can share the recordings with others, be it through glogging or something else. Obviously, the possibilities are largely untapped at this point, but there must be a lot of ways that the experiences, knowledge, etc. could be shared through this. This application doesn't look very political though, more social and philosophical. Clearly it leads to more openness, tighter social connections, better understanding, etc., just like open communications in general. Sousveillance doesn't so much empower the individual as it strengthens his connections with others. This is clearly something that, for example, Soviet thinkers and artists in 1920s and 1930s would be extatic about. :) So I guess one can make a case that sousveillance is very compatible with leftist ideas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

still thinking about all this: it really is easier to create art, and float the ideas within the imagination than it is to theorize politically