Blogs | MIT Center for Civic Media

Of Nodes and Knots

In our Introduction to Civic Media class this week we were fortunate to be joined by Eric Kluitenberg who, amongst much else, has recently authored an enlightening essay, “Affect Space: Witnessing the Movement(s) of the Square”. In our class discussion, Eric helped draw out several of the most prominent themes and emphases of his essay and one, in particular, struck a chord with me.

Surveillance in the Telegraph Era

This week in class we discussed how the telegraph started shaping communication after it was invented. My final project is about domestic surveillance, so I thought it would be interesting to look at what type of surveillance got dreamed up when we had just the telegraph.

Nowadays we are subject to PRISM, a surveillance program that allows agencies to query stored communication at various technology companies that match court-approved search terms. Back when we had the telegraph there was a similar program called Project SHAMROCK. The project involved accumulating all telegraphic signals that enter or exit the United States. This data got printed and passed down to law enforcement agencies, who sifted through it all to find evidence. It can be thought of as a physical manifestation of database querying we use nowadays to match search terms, except that comparison breaks down because the SHAMROCK investigators get to see a bunch of other communications in the search for information on an open investigation. By the 60's they did actually have an electronic system for searching for keywords.

Lara Baladi: Vox Populi, Archiving a Revolution in the Digital Age

Lara Baladi introduces us to her project "Archiving a Revolution", which documents the story of the Tahrir Squre protests. Developing over several years, Baladi has transformed her visual archive into a several projects, including an art installation.

Baladi introduces her project, "Archiving a Revolution," as crossing disciplinary boundaries. It comes at a poignant time, as the Egyptian revolution begins to be erased. Baladi is a visual artist by trade, and she spends a lot of time curating visual archives as part of her projects though  working across disciplines and mediums in her projects. Tahrir square and the revolution is a project that is very close to Baladi's heart, having herself taken part in the protest and seen the power of the grassroots videos that were shared. 

When the church says recycle, you recycle

Lebanon has been suffering a garbage crisis for the past nine months, and people are living within piles of garbage - literally - and the ruling elite does not seem that enthusiastic to resolve the situation. The problem reflects the lack of infrastructure in the country and the crippling of local decision making where executive decisions need to pass by a parliament that is more interested in economic gain for its members than the public good. The bright side is that this crisis has created pockets of unprecedented civil society movements that are not dependent on hegemonic powers of political leaders. These initiatives have short life spans due to the lack of experience in undertaking such projects without an obvious leader, but they are interesting indications of a learning process that has to happen in order to reach a sovereign everyday life, a true meaning of citizenship. The following example stands out because it's an interesting utilization of existing ideologies, official municipal mediators, locality, a desire for change and a keen knowledge of the population.

Applying Decoding Models to Privacy Issues

How do we find the hegemonic viewpoint surrounding mass surveillance in America? President Obama introduces the issue in a speech: "At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere." The mentioning of Paul Revere is important. He appeals to legitimacy by immediately framing the issue in a historic context, and associating with it a prominent heroic figure of American history. He continues tacitly justifying the current situation, and takes note of "potential for abuse," but then takes a particularly enlightening turn, relaying that "here is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less. So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate -- and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified -- the danger of government overreach becomes more acute.

2016: Year of the Tactical Takedown?

The present presidential election is a spectacle, in the truest sense of the word, like few before. Just as FDR's weekly radio addresses and JFK's success in the first televised presidential debate watermark the adoption and cooption of a particular communication medium for political ends, so the 2016 campaign may go down in history as marking a seismic shift in the landscape of political uses of media. The candidate leading the charge, this time round, is unquestionably Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Yet it's a little more difficult to identify precisely which medium or platform Trump has coopted. The most readily available answer seems to be 'all of the above' - although in different ways.

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