Plod Pods

The micro drone is not the only sci fi spin off boggling the goggles these days (its a hunter-seeker from Dune). This below, at first, I thought was a put up job. I thought it was mad enough to be a photo-shopped diss, but it seems all too true: as this story from Harlem, of course, confirms.

I was alerted to this new fold in the panoptic street-scape by Jeff Heydon, who owes us more text soon (Jeff?). And am thinking we need to watch the Star Wars films again to learn the tactics and logistics needed to topple these monsters.

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Movin’ On Up

A significant amount of my research deals with surveillance and the idea of the panoptic. That it is the current model for most first-world prison systems or that it applies to the datafication of the entire populous of the planet under the weight of the digital revolution is well established. What I find fascinating is the way in which the idea of the panoptic can indeed conform to different national cultures.New Yorkers are so often derided for being obnoxious, Starbucks-swigging, quasi-cultured faux-European poseurs that it’s genuinely nice to come across an example that indicates the Big Apple is just as capable of fusing laziness, an unnatural attachment to Star Wars (think of the AT-STs from Empire), the automobile obsession and the assertion of freedom through overt dictatorial mechanisms as the rest of the country. The following photograph, taken by an ever-vigilant friend of mine, will better illustrate my point:

What we appear to be witnessing in this instance (and, to be fair, I haven’t been thinking about this object for a very long time) is the stop-and-search equivalent of the drive-thru window. The realization that the guard tower can now be driven to the point of concern and the dynamics of the total surveillance prison can be enacted anywhere on the street adjusts our relationship with systems of power in two ways.

The first is obvious: the ability of the police to view, capture and develop a case against a citizen is mobile, technological and allows the traditional, permanently fixed globe of the CCTV camera to shift from one location to another location. The physical aspects of the city are less stable than before – our relationship with objects that indicate power no longer fits to the object/stable – human/mobile dynamic … or not as clearly as before anyway.

The second is a bit more interesting. SkyWatch (the name of the tower) offers an opening in our understanding of urbanity from a public perspective. The necessity of a tower that is mobile might function as an indication of the fallibility of a power structure that encourages us to think that it is omniscient. There is a desperation that emerges from this thing; the need to turn the urban landscape into a potential prison block at the drop of a hat might indicate to us just how much of the landscape is a permanent blind spot on the security system’s radar screen.

The use of SkyWatch is problematic at best. The option to erect a guard tower anywhere on an urban map at the whim of the police puts all of us in the position of a potential prisoner. With that in mind, it might just be how obvious this thing is that makes me chuckle at it rather than feel a genuine sense of concern. More likely, though, that’s an indication that I’m becoming far too comfortable with the sensation of being watched at all times for no good reason at all …

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