[Note: this is an early draft of a section of a paper I’m working on titled ‘Who Gives a Tweet about Privacy’. Other sections will follow as I draft them.]
Unauthorized Capture and Transmission of Data
Almost every cellular phone that is now sold has a camera of some sort embedded into it. The potential for individuals to capture and transmit our image without permission has become a common fact of contemporary Western life, but this has not always been the case. When Polaroid cameras were new and first used to capture images of indiscretions for gossip columns, Warren and Brandeis wrote an article asserting that the unauthorized capture and transmission of photos and gossip constituted a privacy violation. Such transmissions threatened to destroy “at once robustness of thought and delicacy of feeling. No enthusiasm can flourish, no generous impulse can survive under [gossip’s] blighting influence” (Warren and Brandeis 1984: 77). Individuals must be able to expect that certain matters will be kept private, even when acting in public spaces – they have a right to be let alone – or else society will reverse its progress towards civilization.
Throughout the Global North there are discussions on the table for introducing what are called ‘three-strikes’ rules that are designed to cut or, or hinder, people’s access to the Internet should they be caught infringing on copyright. In the EU, the big content cartel is trying to get ISPs to inspect consumer data flows and, when copywritten content is identified, ‘punish’ the individual in some fashion. Fortunately, it is looking that at least the EU Parliament is against imposing such rules on the basis that disconnecting individuals from the Internet would infringe on EU citizens’ basic rights. In an era where we are increasingly digitizing our records and basic communications infrastructure, it’s delightful to see a body in a major world power recognize the incredibly detrimental and over-reactionary behavior that the copyright cartel is calling for. Copyright infringement does not trump basic civil liberties.
Now, I expect that many readers would say something along this line: I don’t live in the EU, and the EU Parliament has incredibly limited powers. Who cares, this: (a) doesn’t affect me; (b) is unlikely to have a real impact on EU policy.
I’ll be presenting my paper “The Ontological Crisis of Melancholia: Searching for foundations in the ether of cyberspace” tomorrow at the (inter)disciplinarities: theory & crisis conference tomorrow. If you have any thoughts or comments on the paper, feel free to drop me a line – I’m hoping to polish it over the next few months and then start shopping it around to a few journals. The abstract is below:
In The Psychic Life of Power, Judith Butler argues that the power structures ordering individuals and states alike are predicated on a mourning that cannot be mourned; melancholia permeates the primary ordering structures of the individual and the state. Butler takes up this absence, and alerts us to the state’s reliance on citizens’ melancholia to support its continued being. The state, constituted by the melancholic, reasserts and normalizes the melancholia responsible for plunging the modern subject into its ontological crisis of Being; it perpetuates the subjects’ inability to authentically ground their selfhood.
In this paper, I ask whether digital environments are spaces that can facilitate the resolution of modern subjects’ ontological crisis, and thus might provoke the reconstitution of modern politics. In responding to this inquiry, I take up Butler’s analysis of mourning and melancholia and situate her politics of identity in the context of Cyberspace. Specifically, I investigate whether the modern subject can work through their crisis within the plasticity of digital spaces, or if these spaces only superficially present possibilities for working through crisis. In interrogating these possibilities, I consider how psychosocial norms of embodied life are (being) embedded throughout digital spaces, and reflect on the implications of state-held norms being reaffirmed in these new media environments. I conclude by adopting the stance that Cyberspace may enable some individuals to acknowledge their experience of melancholia, but stop short of claiming that the possibilities afforded by this space’s plasticity can or will provoke a widespread reconstitution of modern politics.
A common element of the (various) streams of thought that I’m usually engaged in surrounds the question of identity. What constitutes identity? How is this constitution being modulated (or is it?) in digital spaces? What can past and contemporary theorists offer us, in response to these questions? What are the strengths of these responses, and what are their weaknesses?
Over the next six months or so, I want to begin taking up these questions more seriously. I plan to begin constructing an account in order to gain a better appreciation for both how granularly we often attempt to separate identities, and how at the same time those are often shared, surveyed, or otherwise modified without our ever being aware. My thoughts are that a core difference between ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’ identities follows from the (relative) ease of surveying and modifying digital identities without the source of that identity ever being made aware. While unobtrusive surveillance is possible in an analogue space, there is an emphasis in the West on the development of homogeneous protocols that are intended to facilitate the diffusion of data across digital pathways, and this carries with it new ways of collating and modulating available dataflows. Continue reading