Withiel Black (withiel) wrote in the_rhexis,
Withiel Black

Outboard memory, do your stuff - possible newspaper article

You can't avoid it. It's addictive behaviour and it's everywhere. You see it at the gig: legions of phone-waving pillocks watching the action through tiny, washed-out screens rather than actually paying attention to the Real Live Musicians in front of them. At the pub, where people actually interrupt each other having a good time in order to photograph themselves having a good time. Fucking, fucking Facebook, where you find the swig-faced escapades of last night in sodium-flashed, odious detail. Your own face gurning out of a crazy frame, a memorial to the Unknown Idiot.
This is, apparently, what we humans do now - take photos of each other and organise them in albums by date, club, term, time, and shirt colour combinations. It's not stamp collecting for people with lives, it's people stamp collecting their lives.
And it's not a simple cultural phenomenon. We (I mean you - I do not own a camera) self-surveil frenetically, as if we're collecting alibis. It's not just a "thing" like Pokemon or scooters designed for midgets. Allow me to become your be-anorak'd, shed-dwelling conspiracy theorist for a moment and suggest that the incorporation of the camera into the phone is not a politically unmotivated choice. That is to say; why put a shit camera into a phone? Especially with the early models, it's only really useful for taking muddy snapshots of leering eyes and prominent teeth at the wrong angle. However, what it is really useful for is making sure that people have a camera with them at all times - are culturally comfortable with the idea of it being possible that a photo could be taken at every momemt. Previously, only certain pre-planned moments can be photographed, and these grow more frequent with the rise of digital drives rather than film. More pictures can be taken, more frequently. Once the camera is in the phone, everything becomes photographable - the problem of "I wish I had my camera" is eliminated. The rationale, I suppose, is that people cease to treat their memories as reliable compared to cold, hard 0s and 1s, that they begin to conceive of their lives as part of digital record rather than confusing bundles of memory, association and experience. The idea of the security camera becomes a homely commonplace rather than an intruding eye. For example - how many of you would be comfortable having sex in front of a security camera as opposed to a security guard?

Of course, opposing cultural trends is proverbially futile. For the more metaphorically minded, it's King Canute herding cats on a cakewalk. It so happens that it benefits certain styles of government and their corporate "bezzy mates" if there are cameras everywhere, all the time. There are security cameras that shout at you now in London, Glasgow and Birmingham. I'll repeat that. Security cameras that shout at you are now about the place. Foucault would have a leather-clad field day over all this. Yet people seem to think it natural to have Dalek-esque authority-blaring poles just sort of hanging about. However, since it is neither possible nor desirable to go back to pre-surveillance "Dark Ages", it seems the best course of action is a twofold one.

Firstly, to use one's fucking eyes and ears and skin and genitals to look at things. The camera can not only lie, but it can also darkle, tinct and misrepresent. Ever wondered why the world always looks flat and lifeless through a Polaroid camera? Ever wondered why it's always Polaroids that Hollywood serialkillers take of their nubile victims? Your mind gets your truth for you in a way that is very difficult for machines to emulate.

Secondly, to use surveillance to your own advantage. It's almost amusingly naive that anyone could really think that a government based on corruption, lies and badly-soundtracked propaganda would be the main beneficiary of the cultural institution of total surveillance. Everyone having a camera on them (and latterly, a videocamera, tape recorder and broadcasting device) does indeed make the populace more used to being looked at by machines. However, it also makes everyone (who can afford a phone) into a potential journalist. And that's a truly terrifying idea. To contest this corrupt, surveillance-obsessed state we need not the lessons of Waterloo but the lessons of Watergate.
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