Pod Thoughts on Surveillance


I’m living in a pod and eating bugs, under quarantine, like all of us. Here’s a little thought from the Pod. I might do more of these. The good posts on this site came from stimulants. This one comes form alcohol and movies. It’s slower, more stupid and more melancholic. It’s a lackadaisical self-pity rather than the frenzied scab picking you get from Adderall.

I’m watching Brazil and having some thoughts–remembering two conversations with a friend/professor: first about the Stasi, the enormity of their archives and the experience of being in the building where they had dossiers, photographs, jars with rags collecting sweat and scent from the foot steps and clothing of those they were observing, suspended in a chemical formula that kept it fresh for trained tracking dogs.


The second conversation was about friends who’ve slipped through the cracks, about both of us having known people who are likely now homeless or dead. They have disappeared out of sight of friends and institutions. They are dead in a way total and horrible, unseen and uncared for by any kind of posterity beyond what friends they may have made in that state.

The first shots of the Ministry of Information in Brazil has attractive young white guys in sweaters pushing retro carts full of papers, machines and papers and a boss watching it all with pride and possessiveness. What appears to be a dystopia may seem like a utopia one day, if things continue to decay. To die without being seen or known by anyone, to die without an ID, without a number that meant you were something beyond just a fragment in the mind of those who knew you.

We all deserve a wikipedia page. Every single human being on Earth. Even a little stub, with at least birth date, height, weight, eye color, etc. Everything detailed. We should be known. We should be verifiable. The tiny details of our lives, the barest physical traces, should be recorded. Let our scent exist in a jar. Stasi agents disguised as workers would kneel down and scrub the floor where someone had stood waiting for a train. That was enough for a dog to know you, to find you again.
The Stasi archives were on display as a video in the MET. The idea seems to excite artists and curators. It should. They were creating a human museum. Plato said to the tragedians, you are not needed, our Republic is already tragic. The state is what is active and beautiful, and all of its citizens glorying in that active beauty. I imagine the Stasi active and alive, and their archives made available to the public periodically, perhaps the dossiers on those who had died so there is less danger of compromising real spy work.

Flip through the archives and pick a folder. A hypothetical man, Bob Miller. He ate the same cereal everyday for six years in a row until he suddenly changed brands. Why? An agent has notes checking price differentials (there was none; curious), speculating on ad campaigns, on demographics and style. The mysteries of Mr. Miller’s life are compiled. They are there for whoever wants them.

When a Hurricane is coming the sale of Strawberry Poptarts notably increases. No one knows why but Big Data has revealed his little mystery. Mass surveillance will reveal many more patterns and mysteries. It will disenchant human life in the ways that are useful: we will see we are serial beings and not so different.


Treatments, care, cures, hope. For everything. Surveillance will do the job of realism too: it will reenchant the world. It will show us the absurd and the interesting in the quotidian. The endlessly fascinating texture of our lives. There was a documentary called “We Live in Public”. A kind of corporate anti-commune commune found that given the option people would rather watch surveillance footage of people they know than TV or movies. That’s something admirable and hopeful. It’s social.

Of course the current surveillance state is just policing. Like the Stasi at its worst (though I love their song, and somehow believe it: “Cheka, defenders of human peace”) surveillance is just the worst forces in the world getting their oily fingers all over our lives. It will be something else, eventually, though it may still be an oily horror for most.

The need to know everything is as real and human and a need as the need for art or security. It won’t recede. It will only advance, farther and more invasive and deeper, and like the ease we’re granted by acquiescing to Google or Amazon’s desire to remember our passwords and the products we buy, so will this future total surveillance make our lives that much more peaceful and simple. To be seen, to be catered to, to be known to each other. Surveillance may precede the ultimate luxury.

Nakedness is a typical image of utopia.


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