Studying Surveillance: Is Communication Freedom?

Inspired by a few selections from the Sarai Reader, The Cities of Everyday Life, I began to identify overarching themes regarding not only physical, but also digital, economical, and informational cityscapes.

In our modern world, information is prolific, and the channels through which it travels operate under the guise of practicality and convenience. However, every rose has it’s thorn, and in the case of informational shifts, each implementation intended for good also introduces an adverse effect. For instance, surveillance is intended to provide clarification and improve security. Accordingly, there is a consensus that increased surveillance improves safety. The question is, for whom does safety improve?

Surveillance often alienates and displaces individuals, particularly minorities or those with identifying characteristics that “invite” unwarranted prejudice. This has been seen in a number of cities around the world, including Binghamton, NY, where students have protested the implementation of a blue-light system downtown, which would coincidentally be effected in places commonly frequented by black members of the community.

In, “Seeing + Believing,” Lisa Haskell writes that, “[t]he camera is propaganda before it even generates an image” (4). Increased surveillance creates an environment which welcomes fear, as it aims to instill reassurance. This is complemented by messages in, “The Street Is The Carrier And The Sign,” which contemplates both temporality and space.

If you cannot know that which cannot be identified, traced, and measured, then to what extent does one understand human beings and occasions in time? By the end of the reading, the author poses the question, “Is Communication Freedom?” A question made heavy by implications regarding surveillance, consumption-fueled culture, and limitations to free exchange.

Mainstream media channels create an alternate ecology, by forming a network of information that feeds to and through cityscapes; moving into the world, and simultaneously making the world from digitised information.

Best stated by the author of “The Street Is The Carrier And The Sign, “[t]he city transmits the world, transmits to the world” (4). Though the access and connectivity provided by the internet and other social platforms is key to the digital and informational cityscapes we see today, it is important to consider the ways in which mainstream media fail to provide for humanity.

As discussed in, “Open Publishing,” much of the media humans absorb is carefully crafted for consumption. A number of productions and publications do not encourage viewers to create on their own. Fueled by profit, the makers of popular media aim to minimize friction from consumers, rather than empower the creative mind.

Matthew Arnison encourages readers to use platforms for open publishing, to rewrite today’s story - to redefine our truth. So we know to seek answers elsewhere before there’s no warning left to hear. Because when uncertainty renders modern media useless and reality hits, we don't want to be left with the words, “[y]ou must be fucking joking” (Deer, Miller 3).

A mindful approach to mainstream media and consumption is crucial to both understanding the connection between our various cityscapes, and effecting positive change toward today’s natural ecological condition.

Each of the aforementioned works portray messages that tie in to Yao Lu’s depictions of the natural world, and The Long Biên Picture Show. The latter of which, shows the actuality of physical and economical cityscapes, by juxtaposing human reactions to city infrastructure with the human desire for a place in pure nature. Both of these compositions illuminate the impact of cities, not only on nature, but also on humans’ perception of a natural state.

It is our duty to take a conscientious approach, to determine what is and is not for the good of the people - for the good of the world. Have we maximized the potential of our creations? And if we choose to continue on our current projectile, then will we ever?

Marketing Student - Comfort-obsessed, plant-loving mess. Always trying. Continually coming to be.

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