Surveillant Anxiety in the Age of Snowden and Normcore

By Alexis C. Madrigal

1. Surveillant anxiety may not catch on as a term, but Kate Crawford's essay on the topic is outstanding.

"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."

 

2. Drug-trafficking drones. Just think about that for a minute

"In the case of drug drones, the wings need to fold up so that it will fit in a semi-truck both before and after flight so that it can be serviced, reloaded and flown from another site. It’s a lot easier and less expensive than running a drug submarine. You can build and operate two dozen drone aircraft for the price of one submarine. The swarm effect also makes it unlikely that more than one at most will be apprehended by American law enforcement at any one time. The assembly line for narcotics drones is located in the Santa Fe District of Mexico City and near the Bombardier factory at Queretaro where aircraft factory workers can moonlight and double their money."

 

3. A single synapse is mind-bogglingly complex, even if we *can* model it in simple ways.

"The downside of the cartoon synapse is that it gives a false impression. It makes it seem as if the synapse is simple and all figured out, when actually it’s mostly baffling. I was reminded of its complexity by a study published in today’s issue of Science. Researchers in Germany used an array of techniques— including Western blotmass spectrometryelectron microscopy, and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy—to create a three-dimensional model of a typical synapse in the adult rat brain... The model shows some 300,000 individual proteins, and remember—they’re all hanging out at a single synapse!"

 

4. Design thinking is a certain kind of application of engineering.

"There is, however, a part of the story that seems to be slipping away (especially in the business press and in business schools) that I think is important to tell, and that executives, students, and journalists often don't seem to realize: Engineers and engineering schools are one of the main driving forces behind this movement. You can see the impact of engineers clearly in the development of two iconic design thinking organizations that I know well and have been involved in for many years: IDEO, the magnificent innovation firm, and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which everyone calls the Stanford d.school."

 

5. The currency of living matter.

"As part of opti-ME*s investigation into embodied value, identity economics, and human exchange, artist Sascha Pohflepp presents a speculative executive toy modeled on the body’s very own ‘molecular currency’. Converting organic into digital ‘money’, he maps in a closed circuit the energy needed for the bio-mechanical production of five US dollars worth of Bitcoins – the market value of the digital rendering of the molecule itself... Drawing inspiration from Georges Bataille’s writings on flows of energy and excess, the Currency of Living Matter re-imagines a model of the ATP molecule, bought on the internet for five US dollars, as a desk accessory for biotech executives of the near future."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bottleneck. Fig. something that checks progress; in good standing, but overworked.

 

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The Downside of the Cartoon Synapse

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/surveillant-anxiety-in-the-age-of-snowden-and-normcore/371907/