“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”
Not the late 90s Neal Stephenson novel – oh hai peak digital utopianism – nor the name of my favourite anarchist theorist, but the dark panopticon; the black magic mirror.
The state of being constantly distracted from the truth sinking in, that Jonah Nolan built a TV show around before he led his creative time to cross the uncanny valley to Westworld: that you are being watched.
That despite Number 6‘s seeming victory in his mythic struggle to prove the triumph of Individualism over the need to conform to the needs of society for the greater good: you are still a number and not a free person.
That the bits and bytes of your life are sliced and diced and stored – not just in the databases of government agencies, but tracked and stacked by corporations in new and ever more invasive ways than you can remember. That every little move you make is captured by technomagic, carefully conjured to never break the illusion of freedom, so you never see the bars of the Black Iron Prison. That though on some level you know you’re being watched, it’s not to watch you, just the other people. The dangerous ones.
That if you do see the cameras, you’re programmed now to think of the world as a movie set. They turned the post 9/11 planet into a prison to set us free, and make us stars. Free to think anything but that you’re perfect little puppets, misdirected every time you notice the strings; so well played is the security theatre, so well rendered is this version of the Matrix.
You wince momentarily at the omnipresent artificial eyes and then are distracted by the offer of two-for-one deals and the utopia of a perfect user experience… and forget those evil CCD lenses are just tip of the spear, the visible part of the iceberg sunken below vision, out of sight, but never blinking. All there so you can be pushed and pulled and yanked from the stage by the minions of the Archons when you might ruin their game, or it simply serves their needs.
You are being monitored “every moment of every day,” but you can relax on your crammed commute home from your cubicle cell with the latest gamified, Pavlovian reward system on the best Skinner box your money can buy, the best tracking device you never knew you needed.
The Cryptopticon – practice saying it, it doesn’t take long: CRYPT-OPT-I-CON – is the shadow mechanism of measurement that facilitates the new systems of control affected by the Surveillance Marketing State.
This portmanteau‘d neologism is important and worthy of dramatisation and illustration, because, as Adam Curtis says during his unofficial director’s commentary for HyperNormalisation (20mins in):
…if you talk to the liberals and the left these days, the one thing they never talk about is power. Have you noticed this? It’s really interesting. At a time, when actually, by every measure, inequalities of lifespan, of opportunity, of wealth have gone up massively and raw power has shown itself again and again and again over the last 30 years. The left just never talk about power, I mean it’s almost left to Game of Thrones…
if you want to change the world, you have to confront the entrenched power…
The way you’re going to change the world is by somehow dramatising the power that shapes your world… the film [HyperNormalisation] dramatises where power has now shifted… we haven’t seen how power has shifted to all kinds of new systems of management and control that actually shape our lives. And if you’re gonna make the world a better place, you’re gonna have to a) see them – bring them into focus – and b) deal with them.
This is the strength we gain by adding “Cryptopticon” to the lexicon of the rescue mission.
By giving a name to this invisible control mechanism we can bring it into focus, talk about it and confront it. Because when you name something, you have power over of it.
The Rise of the Cryptopticon – Siva Vaidhyanathan (extract):
Customize to Monetize
Facebook, Google, and Amazon want us to relax and be ourselves. They have an interest in exploiting niche markets that our consumer choices have generated. These companies are devoted to tracking our eccentricities because they understand that the things with which we set ourselves apart from others are the things about which we are most passionate. Not only our passions, but our predilections, fancies, and fetishes, drive and shape our discretionary spending; they are what make us easy targets for precise marketing…
The race to monitor, monetize, and manipulate the attention given by users in exchange for “free” services marks the current corporate moment. It also characterizes the mania that drives companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple to create more than the operating system of our computers or phones. They are racing to become the operating system of our lives.
Know Your Info Flow
It’s not just Facebook, Google, and Amazon that want us to be ourselves. Modern liberal states want us to relax and reveal our allegiances, opinions, and affiliations. They even count on subversive and potentially dangerous people to reveal themselves through their habits and social connections. Contrast this subtle style of control with the Panopticon’s approach to suppressing dissent or quelling subversion. The Stasi, remember, lost control over the East German people despite the enormous scale of its operations and the long-lasting damage it inflicted on both the observers and the observed…
Since late 2001, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China, among others, have installed sophisticated and covert surveillance systems to track the words, images, movements, and social networks of their citizens. Companies such as Google and Facebook put Big Data collection and analysis at the heart of their revenue-generating functions, always described by company officials as enhancements to “the user experience.” The line between “state” and “commercial” surveillance hardly matters any more, as state security services regularly receive significant data sets on people’s movement and habits just by asking for them or by licensing the data on the open market. The same consumer data companies that sell your profile to Target or Visa are happy to sell it to the New York City Police Department or the FBI. Data firms also collect state records such as voter registrations, deeds, car titles, and liens in order to sell consumer profiles to direct-marketing firms.