August 26th, 2020

Watching Me, Watching You
Today, everyone seems to be impacted by technologies of surveillance and pervasive data capture. And yet, systems ranging from Nextdoor to Palantir’s software reinforce asymmetries of privilege and power in surprising and often similar ways, shaping both the identities of their subjects and the discourses in which they engage. Whether you’re calling your neighbor a “terrorist” on Nextdoor or a Palantir algorithm has labeled your neighbor a “terrorist,” we are positioned in relationship to one another via both these technologies in ways that cater to authoritarianism and that reify prejudice and contribute to practices of oppression and marginalization.

Presentation #1: Keli Gabinelli, “What is Nextdoor for?” Spaces of Imagining and Politics of Performing Community
I examine the online platform Nextdoor with particular interest in my own community, Santa Cruz, California, a site of struggle over land, housing, resistance against big real estate, and the local ordinances that criminalize homelessness in particular and poverty in general. Nextdoor demonstrates how imagined communities online are sustained through mechanisms of exclusion that are built into the platform and mimic models of governance that prioritize wealth and private property.  While users on Nextdoor share a common goal of building a sense of community, hinged on safety and genuine human connection, the virtual space for collective imagining and community building becomes a battleground to hash out ideals of belonging, inevitably amplifying racial and class biases, and sustaining ideals of authoritarianism upon which the suburban surround thrives.

Presentation #2: Sun-ha Hong, The Moralisation of Predictivity in the Age of Data-Driven Surveillance
Technologies of datafication engender the belief that whatever can be predicted must be, and that whatever needs to be predicted surely can be. Yet this excessive faith in data is paradoxically leading to more uncertain and speculative technologies. I focus on the post-9/11 evolution of counter-terrorism surveillance, where longstanding biases and prejudices creep back into seemingly objective, data-driven efforts to predict and pre-empt the ‘lone wolf’ terrorist. For certain kinds of bodies, to appear ‘correctly’ in databases can be the unhappy obligation on which their lives depend.

Moderator: Zach Kaiser

Bios:

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Keli Gabinelli is a community organizer and media strategist living in Santa Cruz, California. Her work focuses on the intersections of housing, the home, social media and technology. She is currently working on establishing the first community land trust in Santa Cruz, the Coastal Commons Land Trust, and learning how to propagate philodendrons.

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Sun-ha Hong (@sunhahong) examines speculations and fantasies surrounding big data and smart machines. His book Technologies of Speculation: The limits of knowledge in a data-driven society (NYU Press, 2020) traces shifting standards of knowledge and certainty in the age of data-driven surveillance. Sun-ha is Assistant Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University.

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Zachary Kaiser (@ZacharyKaiser) is Associate Professor of Graphic Design and Experience Architecture at Michigan State University. His current body of research questions the ideologies embedded in the design of technological products and services with which we interact and the impact of these ideologies on human intersubjectivity.