Researching and Reading – Information & Control…

BRIEF: Write a short (less than 700 words) blog post that collates, notates and extends the theme of one of the set texts with your own research. (Using only academic texts!).
Pick one aspect of themes covered in the module so far and undertake some library research to find out more about it. Find texts / articles not covered in the module so far.
This blog post may be in not or list form, or a short piece of writing.
In either case its primary purpose is to demonstrate your understanding of the reading that you have done with a series of notes or synopses.

Information and Control:

Giles Deleuze in his journal article Postscript on the Societies of Control summarises that we have moved from Foucault’s disciplinary societies to control societies. Foucault identifies a transformation of society from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to their height at the outset of the twentieth century (Deleuze, 1992), he puts this down to the growth of institutions such as; schools, barracks, factories, hospitals and prisons, which he believes assisted the control and discipline of society to work for the powerful.

He also states, “Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.” (Deleuze, 1992) I believe ‘dividual’ in this context, to mean pieces of data that make up an individual, which are divided up into sections of data and capitalised and exchanged as a way of generating profit to satisfy the shareholders of large multinational technology data analytics companies, whose only interest is to control.

The ‘Situationist International’, was a relatively small Paris-based group of influential, avant-garde artists and intellectuals, best known for their radical political theory and their influence on the May 1968 student rebellion and worker revolts in France. (Matthews, 2005) Situationists increasingly applied their critique not only in culture but to all aspects of capitalist society. Guy Debord emerged as the most important figure. (Marshall, 1992) Debord applied Marx’s ideas to mass communication, showing how capitalism has penetrated not just what we produce and consume, but how we communicate. (Mitchell, 2017) The Situationists characterised the whole of modern capitalist society as an “organisation of spectacles” (Debord, 1967) this is clearly a cynical and sardonic statement, I believe he is suggesting that the ‘spectacle’, as manifested in mass entertainment, news, and advertising, alienates us from ourselves and our desires in order to facilitate the accumulation of capital and is used a smokescreen, that can be manipulated and leveraged to deceive us. (Debord, 1967)

Despite writing in 1992, twelve years before Facebook, six years before Google was founded and only two years after computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1990. Deleuze’s writing is revolutionary, it shows he was a visionary ahead of his time, as he was able to anticipate what was to come. The prevalence of control and the idea of the ‘dividual’ is more prevalent now than ever, due to the pervasiveness of technology in modern-day society, on a level that I believe even Deleuze himself would struggle to comprehend.

We now live in a world where we exchange are data for services all the time, using social media sites like; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram enable intimate moments but make money broadcasting them. Google, who profit enormously from our personal data to sell advertising. Ride-sharing services such as Uber, who permanently track our every movement. Loyalty Cards, who give use points in exchange for the contents of our shopping baskets. Personal assistants, that store a recording of everything we’ve ever asked it on a database. Online shopping websites, that statistically analyse our movements around their website to sell us more products. Even simply walking around a shopping centre doesn’t come without a tradeoff for our personal data, often without even being aware that we are supplying it. It’s easy to think of these discrete pieces of data as too trivial or insignificant, in order to paint an accurate picture of us as rounded individuals, however, we live in a world where businesses operate by capitalising from cross-referencing and reconstructing accurate images of our personas, shopping habits and movements. For example, if a shopping centre tracks your movements around their premises, using your phone signal, which you agreed to by entering their premises (if you were aware of it or not), they could concatenate this data with the shops you entered, time of purchase, how much you spent and distance time and route to your next purchase.

This reduces our society of social media consuming, data-hungry ‘dividuals’ (Debord, 1967), to a commodifiable and valuable asset to be profited from, by the companies that supply the very services we rely on. In return, we are constantly analysed and our data shared and then used to sell products back to us, this capitalist data loop is a paradox of modern day society.

Bibliography:

Debord, G. (1967) The society of the spectacle. France: Buchet-Chastel.

Deleuze, G. (1992) Postscipt on the Societies of Control. pp. 3-7.

Marshall, P. (1992) Guy Debord and the Situationists. Available from: https://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Obituary/debord.html [Accessed 12 December 2017].

Matthews, J. (2005) An Introduction to the Situationists. Available from: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/jan-d-matthews-an-introduction-to-the-situationists [Accessed 12 December 2017].

Mitchell, D. (2017) Society of the spectacle. Available from: http://beautifultrouble.org/theory/society-of-the-spectacle/ [Accessed 12 December 2017].

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