I just read Bogard's The Simulation of Surveillance
(Cambridge: CUP, 1996); it demonstrates some interesting qualities of social and cultural theorising from that time, especially when utilising virtual reality, informatics, and the like as the raw material from which to craft theoretical texts.
Bogard's work, drawing heavily on Baudrillard and Foucault with nods to Virilio and Deleuze, presents some useful, if complex, arguments about the way that computerisation produces surveillance that is now a 'simulation' rather than surveillance itself. An example (pp.27,52) concerns profiling - very much in the news recently in relation to the so-called War on Terror. Profiling is not surveillance but, rather, the simulation of surveillance because it creates a perfect system of knowing and controlling certain types of subjects (deviants, criminals, etc). The grubby business of actually having to watch such 'people' is set aside in favour of simply having them served up ready for interrogation, arrest and so on, by dint of the profiles. This one example does not do justice to the depth of analysis, of course.
Bogard astutely concludes that surveillance now seems to occur through 'anticipation' rather than 'watching (p55)
I am less interested in what Bogard has to say, in pretty abstract terms, about surveillance and simulation than in the fact that Bogard's text exemplifies a certain quality of writing which idealises information and communication technologies, setting them adrift experience and multiplicities of meaning through experience, and rendering them as relatively superficial, or one-dimensional, characters within a hermetically sealed postmodern theoretical text. Such 'uses' (in a textual sense) of information and communication technologies are strangely reminiscent of the idealisation of imagined possibilities and consequences of ICTS that Bogard himself comments on critically (eg p5). Bogard's text is heavy on abstractions of computer technology and fantasy-fears of what it might mean for the way in which human lives are lived but short on worked-through examples of such impacts.
In other words, I would conclude, The Simulation of Surveillance
represents a certain genre of academic analysis of 'telematic' society, as Bogard terms it (we might now say 'networked society'), in which the materiality of that increasingly virtualised world is ignored in search of an equivalent hypotheticality to match the kinds of marketing claims used to establish a positive context within which meaning might be drawn from living in a virtualised world. Bogard is no simplistic reactionary, I should add. He does not slip into mirror-like resistance to the controlling, dominating logics of ICTS that he identifies. Nevertheless, there is a slipperiness to his work in this book that provides little chance for traction in reading it. As with other theorists in the 1990s, the textual analysis is not of the everyday life of new technologies of computerisation and communication but of the grand vision of possibilities. In this respect, the book does little to actually reveal the consequences for society of the actualisation of that grand vision through messy, imperfect implementations.
It's not, however, surprising that such works should appear in the early to mid-1990s (and perhaps a little later). To understand why, we should consider the persistent use by Bogard of references to 'VR' - that now almost-forgotten subject of intense fascination in socio-cultural analyses (and military-industrial investment planning) of the late 1980s. Bogard provides an excellent analysis of the problems of counterposing 'virtual' and 'real', preferring Deleuzian notions of the virtual as the 'already actual' past in the present and the real as the 'passing present' (p14), but does not perhaps apply the same rigour to thinking about what might actually happen with VR. The figure of the 'immersed' VR-suited person does tend to factor large in Bogard's thinking (pp33,36), a kind of real-world analogy to fictive representations of VR such as the Star Trek: Next Generation
holo-deck (pp.59-60). The problem with VR, of course, is that while it appears to be the 'real' counterposed to the fictional, it too (a point I think Bogard would appreciate) has turned out to be equally fictional.
It is consistent and valuable to treat real-world and fictional-world representations together (and Bogard points clearly to the interweaving of science fact and science fiction in both technologised societies and analyses of them - 6ff.). However, they cannot be treated as quite as the same thing
. Real fictions (like the Holodeck), as simulations of the simulations in society, are perfectable and complete - they already exist and their dimensions and qualities are completely known. Fictive realities (like the immersive VR proposed in the 1980s), are actual simulations (signs without reality) that Baudrillard challenges us to think of as unreal in their hyperreality. Bogard's work tends to efface this difference and, as a result - like the signs and portents he reads - his analysis floats free from the apparent referents it signifies.
This conclusion - reached of course with a decade's hindsight and silent about many fine qualities in Bogard's work - is a way of asserting that there was, I think, a transitional point in cultural theorising around new ICTs in the mid-1990s. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the primary reference point for any commentary on ICTs and their impact on society and culture was the representation of those technologies in films, books, television and the like; there were also equivalent, though not quite similar, representations within texts that we might describe as marketing, futurism, and the like - the 'speculative reality' genre of literature beloved by and mostly produced by promoters of a technologised future. Essentially, the analysis of technology and society was, in most cases, either an analysis of the representations of that relationship, or an analysis which depended on deploying
such representations as the feedstock for the analytical manufacture of relevant conclusions. Even analyses of specific 'actual' implementations tended to treat the technology-in-society being discussed 'as if' it were really happening when, in fact, it was largely a set of potentials, almost entirely not
yet happening but still to come.
Some years on, the telematic society of which Bogard writes is more obvious, more extensive and more pervasive than ever, but the way in which we might want to think and write about technology has changed. While real fictions we see on our screens or pages, and the fictional realities presented in marketing and hyperbole remain, there is now a much more important and extensive layer of reality/fiction being experienced in the uses and meanings of ICTs. In the 1990s, this networked, virtual, computerised world, despite the hints in reality and the clues in fiction, still had to imagined
before someone like Bogard to write about it. Now the world is all around and experienced daily and explicitly by most people in society (at least in the advanced capitalist world). Rather than having to work hard to imagine it, we face no-less challenging problems of thinking ourselves 'outside' this world now.Technology and Society
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