Post #74

What changes and  almost  same in the of and as  travels digital- space?  mediated, space deforms,  conforms, confounds, the human and individuation and collectivity moment to moment, each arising wholes    most recent post raises a about  interplay  Politics, Ruin Digital Space, the digital spaces.

When we  at  places, looking politics, and  of depend  a  variables.  place that  ruined but abandoned   very things. A  that completely abandoned but not  the unexpected. Time the only  that on itself.

Coded spaces create kind of invisibility to revealing their creation    in speech rather  create  kind of political aphasia.

Aphasia  difficulty a vocabulary  associates appropriate   concepts with appropriate things. Aphasia  its many describes difficulty retrieving both conceptual  most important, a comprehending spoken. Aphasia: Race Disabled Histories in  Ann Laura Stoler

I agree with Sarah, is significant content  the decay and  of in  generate the “conceptual and lexical vocabularies” to investigate these I  the seizing up present aphasia is strongest I of my in reflect

what to

Let me this to perhaps way, abandonment, way:

The website allows users  generate variety sequences. use the   is a contested term.  website states its comes which many pseudo-random algorithms typically used in  programs.”  This is appealing because as “radio  caused atmospheric is a of  an important agent decay ruin of analog

I  this to list from 1  to numbers in the body this post.  Starting in a  for  following 7  day I words and numbers from and them below in the order list.   for example, if 56 is the the random the 56th of this post will the word cut pasted below.  So this process will rearrange all the words and numbers into collapsed Punctuation by the word. will not or  hyperlinks or formatting

do this over weeks because is of time  tradition says one can in the bardos, the  existence between  life next one.

After might continue again, it up  a daily spiritual until I able. become  it and it it  iteration,

At to if this sheds it any harmonious sound, to ,feel that helps to better underst and the ruin of

I named this “Post   an  or  that stays as structure

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The Findable Cyborg Part 5

The end product is of no importance. It is the creative process  and the fact of sharing this process with everyone else, destroying its mysteriousness, destroying its capitalist value that is vital. Heather Dewey-Hagborg Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity – Art and Freedom

Post-Conceptual¹ (my term) artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has executed two related projects that speak to the issues of surveillance I have been discussing.  The first of these, Stranger Visions started when she was in a therapy session staring at a framed print with a crack in its glass and a hair lodged in the crack.  As her day progressed, the idea that genetic data surrounds us developed into the (post) concept of Stranger Visions.

She began collecting material likely to have DNA on them such as hair, cigarette butts and gum.  She then extracted and analyzed the DNA from these samples.  Using a computer program she developed, which codes genetic facial traits and generates a model to represent them.  After tweaking the result she used a 3D full color printer to produce facial sculptures that have a “family resemblance” to the DNA donor.

[I]t is important to remember that this is art, not the development of a new product or company. This work is a provocation, designed to spur a cultural diaogue about genetic surveillance and forensic DNA phenotyping. What does it mean for an artist, an amateur, to do this? What are the implications for privacy issues as well as law enforcement? I think these are the major questions. We hear everyday about “digital natives” who don’t know how not to share their private data with the world, but here we all are, shedding hairs, nails, skin, and leaving saliva behind us all the time, without thinking about it as information. Stranger Visions Press Release


The second project of Dewey-Hagborg’s I’d like to discuss is Invisible.

Acing that interview? Don’t let your genes undermine your confidence. Be invisible.
Are you too big to fail? Don’t let DNA spill your secrets. Protect your prestige and be invisible
Spend the night somewhere you shouldn’t have? Erase your indiscretion and be invisible
Dinner with the prospective inlaws going smoothly? Don’t let them judge you based on your DNA, be invisible.
Exercising your freedom of speech? Be invisible and never get tracked.  Invisible

For this project, Dewey-Hagborg has developed two sprays.  The first deletes 99.5% of DNA it comes in contact with, and the other renders the rest unreadable by overwhelming any sample with extraneous DNA.

Dewey-Hagborg sold a limited edition of 100 pairs of sprays for $230.  Certainly there are techniques to clean DNA from objects.  This project is about invisibility embedded in convenience, not developing a product.

As Dewey-Hagborg points out DNA provides a way of identifying, gaining medical information and monitoring people.

You wouldn’t leave your medical records on the subway for just anyone to read. It should be a choice. You should be in control of how you share your information and with whom: be it your email, your phone calls, your SMS messages, and certainly your genes. Invisible is protection against new forms of biological surveillance. Invisible

At least conceptually.


¹ I use post-conceptual in recognition of Dewey-Hagborg’s critique of Conceptual Art as having sold out and then died. She also critiques the concept of art. She identifies herself however as an artist and her art is conceptual in nature. So post-conceptual is my attempt to recognize her position.



The Legal Cyborg

The recent unanimous US Supreme Court decision, Riley v California, ruled that police need a  warrant to search the cell phones of those they arrest.  At issue was whether or not searches of the cell phone of an arrested person was a search incident to the arrest.  Such searches are allowable because they can find objects harmful to the safety of the arresting officer, and prevent the destruction of evidence.  The Court found that neither concern applied to information accessible by cell phones and that police should obtain warrants to authorize such searches.

This is of course an important finding, but my purpose here is to look at some of the ideas about communication technology embedded in the decision.  The most obvious example and widely quoted is the following.

mmw_newspaper[1]These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.

While undoubtedly an attempt at humor, the “visitor from Mars” mistaking a cell phone for a body part also introduces the concept of the cyborg, the hybrid of human and machine.  Is it too much to speculate that our Supreme Court Justices are Anxious Cyborgs too?

Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person. The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; … One of the most notable distinguishing features of modern cell phones is their immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and tended as a general matter to constitute only a narrow intrusion on privacy.

I read “physical realities” here as shorthand as “non-digitally coded” realities.  The decision goes onto to discuss the file cabinets etc that one would have to cart around to have at immediate disposal the information accessible with a cell phone.

Finally, there is an element of pervasiveness that characterizes cell phones but not physical records. Prior to the digital age, people did not typically carry a cache of sensitive personal information with them as they went about their day. Now it is the person who is not carrying a cellphone, with all that it contains, who is the exception. According to one poll, nearly three-quarters of smart phone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admitting that they even use their phones in the shower.

I find identifying the pervasiveness and intimacy of cell phone use especially significant.  It may begin to begin to recognize “cyborg” as a legal meaning of “person”.

Alexis Dyschkant writes about the legal importance of establishing the boundary of a person when determining if one has been wrongfully contacted.

 Historically, “one’s person” has been limited to “one’s natural body” and some, but not all, artificial attachments to one’s natural body.  The cyborg, a creature composed of artificial and natural parts, challenges this conception of a “person” because it tests the distinction between the natural body and an artificial part.  Artificial objects, such as prosthetics, are so closely attached to bodies as to be considered a part of one’s person.  However, claiming that personhood extends to things attached to our natural bodies oversimplifies the complicated interrelation between natural objects and artificial objects in the cyborg.  If our person is no longer limited to our natural body, then we must understand personhood in a way that includes the cyborg.  I argue that the composition of a body does not determine the composition of a person.  One’s person consists to the extent of one’s agency.  Cyborgs: Natural Bodies, Unnatural Parts, and the Legal Person

I doubt the Justices intended Riley to redefine the boundaries of a person as the boundaries of one’s agency.  However, their arguments based on pervasiveness and intimacy do, I argue, move in that direction.

In a Buddhist context, I have argued in the past that many people experience their communication devices as a part of the illusion of an inherently existing self.  There  I suggested extending traditional mediations on establishing the boundaries of this illusion to include cell phones for example.

For the cyborg, this meditation could be expanded to include the artifacts of technology that she has aggregated into his experience of self.  For instance, many people might experience the theft or malicious destruction of their cell phone as an assault.  Some may relate to the field of information their communication technology produces as a part of their inherently existing self. The Negated Cyborg

Dyschkant echoes and extends this meditation, creating a vision of personhood eventually eliminating the idea of mediation and consisting entirely of agency.

What the cyborg shows us is that the body can be composed of any kind of part but the person is necessarily the agent which controls, benefits from, and depends upon these parts.  Human tissue, animal tissue, or mechanical “tissue” all allow a person to exercise their agency and interact with the world.  The type of body which a person controls need not be relevant.  Hence, determining when one has made contact with “the person of another” does not necessarily depend on the naturalness or composition of one’s body, but on the relationship between the object contacted and the person’s agency.  We can imagine a technologically advanced future in which people retain control over parts detached entirely from their body or in which one’s person is dispersed across great spaces.

Perhaps at some point the concept of a legal person begins to break down.  Perhaps then the Buddhist idea of non-self, of the negation of an inherently existing self, becomes codified into law.

The Anxious Cyborg

Cyborg action is increasingly instrumental to machinic ends.  Machine to machine (M2M) technology creates discourses and practices that both affect cyborgs and are apart from them.

From a machinic perspective, NSA data surveillance for example, becomes a compelling project.  The data practically cries out for organization and relational analysis.  It’s like European farmers encountering N American prairies for the first time.

ardrey017b[1]The first would-be European settlers encountering this immense, treeless expanse, hesitated.  Then, the early-adopters realized just how rich the soil was.  As word spread, the European farmers flooded in.  Then in 1833  John Deere’s self-scouring steel bladed plow enabled a less back breaking way to bust the deep sod. The pace of settlement cascaded.

Even as Big Data consumes every bit of cyborg communication it can, it needs more.  It needs a pervasively sensorized/coded environment.  Sparse Data (state information from non-IT devices)  is the data from these proliferating sensors. They produce data only when necessary for the specific function of their host machine.

From a machinic perspective, the development of M2M technology introduces a reverse instrumentality.  Technology continues to serve cyborg ends, but cyborgs also become data factories for machines.   Technology has begun to have as its end its own growth and evolution as much as whatever human function it may nominally have.

It is not though the mere existence of the technology that makes this so.  When cyborgs organize their experience using a technological horizon, the human and machinic seem to converge at that ever receding line where cloud and earth appear to meet.  This apparent convergence has begun to become real.  The world becomes the operational environment of technology.

This state of affairs entails anxiety in many cyborgs which they frequently conceptualize as a discomfort with ever-increasing surveillance.  This condition, from a cyborg perspective, is described in The New Inquiry essay The Anxieties of Big Data by Kate Crawford.

Surveillant anxiety is always a conjoined twin: The anxiety of those surveilled is deeply connected to the anxiety of the surveillers. But the anxiety of the surveillers is generally hard to see; it’s hidden in classified documents and delivered in highly coded languages in front of Senate committees. This is part of why Snowden’s revelations are so startling: They make it possible for us to see the often-obscured concerns of the intelligence agencies. And while there is an enormous structural power asymmetry between the surveillers and surveilled, neither are those with the greatest power free from being haunted by a very particular kind of data anxiety: that no matter how much data they have, it is always incomplete, and the sheer volume can overwhelm the critical signals in a fog of possible correlations.

From a machinic perspective, we can easily imagine there is no anxiety, there is no surveillance as such.  The steel bladed plow has broken the sod.  There is only the vast prairie of information cyborgs represent.

The Forgotten Cyborg

I read with interest about the May 14 decision by the European Court of Justice to apply a Spanish “right to be forgotten” law to Google.  A number of European countries have such laws.

The test case privacy ruling by the European Union‘s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.

Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.  EU court backs ‘right to be forgotten': Google must amend results on request  The Guardian 5-13-14

The ruling creates a process for individuals to request search engines to delete posts.  The SE would then consider the request weighing the individual’s concerns with the public’s right to know.  An individual unhappy with the SE’s decision could appeal to the ECJ.

In the last installment of my review of Code/Space, I discussed Kitchin and Dodge’s ethics of forgetting as a way to address the Everyware nature of code.  Their concern includes the internet, but also all coded objects, processes and structures.  As I quoted them in my review they state:

One path…is to construct an ethics of forgetting in relation to pervasive computing….[T]echnologies that “store and manage a lifetime’s worth of everything” should always be complimented by forgetting…So rather than focus on the prescriptive [ethics], we envision necessary processes of forgetting…that should be built into code, ensuring a sufficient degree of imperfection, loss and error. 253 Code/Space (Kitchen and Dodge)

The ECJ decision highlights the issue they present and the prescriptive approach they identify as inadequate to the task.  Various sources have identified all the challenges and dangers this ruling presents.

It’s possible, of course, that although the European regulation defines the right to be forgotten very broadly, it will be applied more narrowly. Europeans have a long tradition of declaring abstract privacy rights in theory that they fail to enforce in practice. And the regulation may be further refined over the next year or so, as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers hammer out the details. But in announcing the regulation, Reding said she wanted it to be ambiguous so that it could accommodate new technologies in the future. “This regulation needs to stand for 30 years—it needs to be very clear but imprecise enough that changes in the markets or public opinion can be maneuvered in the regulation,” she declared ominously.[16] Once the regulation is promulgated, moreover, it will instantly become law throughout the European Union, and if the E.U. withdraws from the safe harbor agreement that is currently in place, the European framework could be imposed on U.S. companies doing business in Europe as well.[17] It’s hard to imagine that the Internet that results will be as free and open as it is now.  The Right to Be Forgotten  Jeffrey Rosen (Stanford Law Review)

K&D’s approach is hard to imagine in operation.  Dueling discourses such as security/privacy, creativity/control, efficiency/accommodation illustrate the implications of all this.  The problem with remembering has always been letting go.  The problem with forgetting is never knowing what is forgotten.  We think that there must be a way to manage this kind of thing, all we need is a system. I will follow the progress of this rulings effects with interest.

The Findable Cyborg Part 4

CALL-AfghanBiometrics[1]The US military has an ongoing project in Afghanistan to collect comprehensive biometric data for the entire population. Derik Gregory’s post Biometric War, outlines the program and links to a number of resources helpful in understanding it. One of these is Public Intelligence’s  Identity Dominance: The U.S. Military’s Biometric War in Afghanistan

Despite this lack of formal doctrine, the U.S. military is currently using more than 7,000 devices to collect biometric data from the Afghan population. .. [T]he biometric identifiers being collected in Afghanistan consist primarily of fingerprints, iris scans and facial photographs.  Other biological characteristics, which are referred to as modalities, that can be used to identify a person include certain types of voice patterns, palm prints, DNA, as well as behavioral characteristics such as gait and even keystroke patterns on a keyboard…. The stated goal of the Afghan effort is no less than the collection of biometric data for every living person in Afghanistan. .. [T]he collection of biometric data is not simply about “identifying terrorists and criminals,” but that “it can be used to enable progress in society and has countless applications for the provision of services to the citizens of Afghanistan.”

The lack of formal doctrine is, I think, important.  The Army has operated the program since 2010.  A doctrine would both define the program’s objectives and methods, and exclude other possible uses.

The Army does say that the program is useful “with identifying terrorists and criminals”.  Who can argue with that?   This data is increasingly used for criminal prosecutions. However, the Army has not discussed the accuracy of the scans, and forensic evidence they are compared to.  So its hard to evaluate  the soundness of the convictions in Afghanistan this program has been instrumental in obtaining. Many of these were obtained on the sole evidence of biometrics. The Army has not specified the number of convictions obtained, nor the what are the “countless other applications it foresees”. The lack of formal doctrine creates a freedom to pursue uses without justification.  In a paper Dr. Gregory cites Colleen B. Bell discusses this.

That is, this emergent technology is poised to capture peoples’ biometrics without their consent or knowledge…It also offers the chance to scan whole populations deemed problematic or risky. It is one way forward in the trend towards automating warfare. The course underway suggests that spaces of the global South deemed to be terrorist havens, actual or perhaps even potential zones of conflict are key targets for the development and implementation of new regimes of securitization. This pattern of activity is consistent with experiments in preliberal government that animated colonial rule…

Colonial modes of governance were also experiments in public order, … render[ing] colonized peoples and spaces as laboratories for the limits and possibilities for disciplinary rule (1999:108–111).

Though the hierarchy of relations between the North and South is not one of direct colonial control, in attempting to secure the identity of crisis populations — and by extension the future — there is a rejuvenation of earlier forms of colonial governance evident in the patterns of illiberal governance over subject populations in which local control is circumscribed by coalition mandates, sovereignty is contingent, and practices that are legally taboo in metropolitan settings are permissible in borderlands settings. Grey’s Anatomy Goes South:  Global Racism and Suspect Identities in the Colonial Present  Colleen B. Bell

Drones as an instrument of warfare have received much attention, becoming a cultural trope.  Pervasive biometric gathering and analysis has not.  Yet biometrics are essential if remote forms of warfare, like drones, are to succeed in their cultural/mythic mission to create a discourse of surgical war, that appears always bloodless for the surgeon and beneficial to the etherized patient.

The gathering of meta data, also receives much attention in the West.  Even as many object to it, it’s scale creates a remote, abstract quality.  The individual scale of the practices that create the data make their benefits much more concrete

Right now, the technology of gathering biometric data is very much “in your face”.  Perhaps the technology being developed now in Afghanistan make that untrue in the future.   Perhaps in the near future, not only our financial and communicative movements, but our public bodily movements will make us always findable.

A Cyborg Garden

We’re hoping to put in  a small garden this year, a couple of tomato plants, zucchini, basil, parley, some lettuce.  It’s been I think 3 years since our last one.  A lot has been going on and it’s been difficult to get organized for a project like that.  So we’ll see. It’s probably already too late to start our own tomato plants.  Garden centers now do carry a wider selection of  plant varieties than years ago, so maybe we’ll be able to find the Carmelos or Brandywines we favor. Meanwhile supplementing the seed catalog surfing, I remember a particular garden themed blog post that’s become something of a ritual for me this time of year.

110420_atomic_01[1]It’s an interview with Paige Johnson by the blog Pruned.  Ms Johnson also has her own garden blog. Garden History Girl  definitely worth checking out.

Pruned: So basically what are atomic gardens?

Paige Johnson: After WWII, there was a concerted effort to find ‘peaceful’ uses for atomic energy. One of the ideas was to bombard plants with radiation and produce lots of mutations, some of which, it was hoped, would lead to plants that bore more heavily or were disease or cold-resistant or just had unusual colors. The experiments were mostly conducted in giant gamma gardens on the grounds of national laboratories in the US but also in Europe and countries of the former USSR.

These efforts ultimately reached far into the world outside the laboratory grounds in several ways: in plant varieties based on mutated stocks that were—and still are—grown commercially, in irradiated seeds that were sold to the public by atomic entrepreneur C.J. Speas during the 50s and 60s and through the Atomic Gardening Society, started in England by Muriel Howorth to promote the mutated varieties.

It’s easy to look back at it all as some crazy, or conspiratorial, plot. But the atomic gardens weren’t a secret. They’ve just been forgotten. And it’s clear from reading the primary sources that most people involved were deeply sincere. They really thought their efforts would eradicate hunger, end famine, prevent another war.

My parents never had a vegetable garden while my brother and I were growing up.  I first encountered a kitchen garden as a part of my daily life in college.  The August before my junior year I moved in with friends Bob and Teddy living their version of the back to the land life.

The house was a small cinder block thing in the hills behind the University.  It’s street address was “The Little White House on Brown Road”.  Anyway, Bob and Teddy had, carved out a garden in a hay-field across the road,  I’m guessing with the help of the inhabitants of “The Green House on Brown Road”. I arrived just at its peak.

The onions were notable because the soil was rich in sulphur, the element that creates onionness.  Cutting into one made everyone in the house cry.  (The house had well water so taking a shower was an olafactory adventure.)

I could imagine Donna Haraway living in our little community, maybe in The Red House.  They always scared me a little bit. Even in the context of Brown Road, they seemed unpredictable, and given to sudden movements of body, speech and mind.  (Oddly one of them became mayor of Binghamton).

The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence. No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological pollis based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household.. .. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden… The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust. Perhaps that is why I want to see if cyborgs can subvert the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic compulsion to name the Enemy.   Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto

We didn’t take photos on Brown Road.  Teddy went out west right after graduation and pretty immediately disappeared.  When Bob died a couple of years ago, several of his friends of that era tried to find Teddy, they all said the same thing, “Teddy went off the grid.”

I wasn’t close with any of the other Brown Roaders.  Karen is the only person I know who was there.  I find it hard to imagine that this level of “imperfection, loss and error” would be acceptable to most people if built into the code of their devices as Kitchin and Dodge suggest.  But if it was, maybe it’s true, our human/space would be more human.