Exploring Digital Culture

Editorial: The Public Human

Strategies of living in the transparent society

Sat 01 Nov 2014
Mara Vandorou 

In our digitized society, the buzzword “Τransparency” has gained new relevance. During the pre-production of this book, the most common question that was asked to me was: “What is Transparency?” .The realization that transparency –both as a social state and a political process- was not yet in the everyday vocabulary was frustrating and yet intriguing. It made me realize the speed in which society, privacy and surveillance is reaching uncharted levels and the prospective human incapability to follow the “beat” of this evolution: its challenges, its pitfalls and even its benefits.

The notorious Edward Snowden scandal in the late 2012 opened the floodgates about the NSA dataveillance policies and brought into the surface a new chaotic space: digital transparency. Ever since, news are dominated by a plethora of transparency-related topics, like the infamous celebrity nude photo scandal, the Heartbleed bug or the Sony entrainment movies database hacking.

However, cyber-attacks is only a tiny and obvious aspect of the multi-angled transparency phenomenon. Transparency does not only imply cyber-crime or governmental dataveillance. Transparency is connected to the omnipresent body trackers and sensors that dominate the digital market. Transparency is connected to the new visualization technologies linked to biotechnology and Life Sciences that deconstruct the living species. As lives migrate to the Net and bodies disperse into data, human life is written in binary. Think about it. Every click on the Web creates data. New Visualization technologies, like MRA scans or digital microscopes deconstruct life into its smallest pieces. Our digital doppelgangers migrate the Net though online profiles and digital “diaries”.

In some way, we all participate -as subjects or objects- in a dispersed network of information. Transparency is nourished by the digital media and of their groundbreaking affordances: Connectivity, Multimediality, Virtuality, Surveillance. Transparency is the state where we live.

One of the biggest challenges during the pre-production of this book was capturing the essence of transparency without cultivating a debate over “the good or bad technology”. Do we embrace transparency as a human freedom or do we need to fight it back as an offense against human privacy and social autonomy? What was of great importance during the production of the book was the avoidance of a preaching attitude that would involve “black and white” polarities.

Moreover, the attempt to “tame” such a chaotic term was equally challenging and fulfilling. It required the joint forces of different experts from various fields in order to “illuminate” as many angles of transparency as possible. The dynamic of digital transparency shakes the pillars of politics, art, law, psychology, biology in terms of privacy and freedom. How can we train ourselves to react meaningfully to such an intimidating and inescapable “openness”?

The interdisciplinarity of the current project aims to bring into the surface the ways in which the transparent society is a multi-dimensional space which branches out into politics, art, biology and even activism. Each chapter reflects on the growing skepticism towards a transparent society where life is being monitored around the clock, and encroaches on the remaining and unclaimed niches where freedom is still an option; and the most effective niches prove to be understanding, critiquing, questioning and doubting.

What politically emancipatory strategies could counteract the control mechanisms of a transparent society? Do we need stronger democratic supervision of protected spaces? Is there a political ethic in hacking? What is the new social subjectivity that emerges within transparency? How do we reconcile new forms and terminology for privacy with digitally aided practices of digital participation? Is the desire for a private sphere merely a regressive escapism or can it truly lead to greater freedom? How do we frame user participation in public labs in order to gain literacy over biotechnology and our own techno-bodies? How media literacy can embrace transparency as a realization of the participatory dream? What actions can we, as citizens, take?

A Strategic approach towards the transparency phenomenon can soften the extreme edges and compromise the polarities of transparency through a new “lens”. Exploring the grey areas and the new borderlines of the transparent society will set the ground for the renegotiating the need for more “darkness” (privacy) in a reality of inescapable “openness” (transparency).

Carmin Karasic 1. Hacktivism in My Words Becoming a hacktivist through electronic civil disobedience
Stephanie de Smale 2. Tinkering with Life Strategies for 'literacy' in the age of biotechnology
Ben Borrow 3. The (in)convenient surveillance device The Mobile Phone as both Enabling Surveillance yet Empowering the Individual
Marina Turco 4. In the Shadow of the Matrix A strategic approach to the transparant society
Alexandra Woelfe 5. Surveillance of the state Connections to identity, autonomy and Foucault's notion of biopower
Dr David Barnard-Wills 6. Stanza An artist's engagement with surveillance, privacy, technology and control
Joeri Taelman 7. Biopolitics through the internet of bodies The act of looking back might sound appealing, but it might very well mean the disappearance of disappearance
Suze Krijnen 8. Waarom je online privacy kunt vergeten (Tenzij we als publiek onze verantwoordelijkheid nemen)
Hans de Zwart 9. Privacyrede 2014 Deze rede werd op 2 september 2014 uitgesproken voor SETUP en Studium Generale UU in de Senaatszaal van het Academiegebouw in Utrecht.
Nienke Huitenga 10. Mijn Digitale Schaduw Ooit ging het om je persoonsgegevens. Nu geven we iets veel waardevollers weg.