Introduction written by Matthew Bedard
Yes, we know. A “night out” in 2020—rather than a romp, stomp, paint the town red / run your phone dead / wind up in a random bed, a credit card left behind the bar, Uber in not four but five cars, with a boozy brunch recap—is more likely to see a mere 38 step expenditure on your Health app over the course of several hours, a live-streamed experience that glitches and hitches throughout, piped in from somewhere seemingly more progressed in the curtailing of the virus than this, the “greatest” nation, and an increasingly pathetic (and is it widening?) ass imprint on the couch. We know.
But let’s back up. Because we’re not here to shed a tear on what we can’t do with our free time. Enough on that’s been said. What we’re here to do is to try and better understand what a night out in 2020—were we not behaving in accordance with virus-related impositions by local government—might look like if we were to sharpen our sensibilities to the influences on our daily being, on planet Earth, but also in this fine ship of fools we call the USA.
So let’s say we’re forced to couch it for the umpteenth Saturday in a row, but we say no. We’re gonna leave the mobile phones behind, because we’ve heard creepy stories of people being tracked in this time. Scott free!
Wait, what’s that you say? We’re not exactly free and untethered out there in the world, even sans cell phone? Afraid not. In fact, many of us are hip to our being watched, tracked, logged, analyzed, but do we understand the extent? And if not the extent, do we understand how this is shaping us and sculpting our behaviors.
The virus will have compounded all the more reasons for governments to monitor our mobility, our participation in social action movements or protest, our curiosity as demonstrated in Google search bars. The virus will have questioned fashion and personal appearance. The virus will have questioned invasive ideologies and technologies. The virus will have changed things.
But what’s often important concerning change is to understand the paths that lead us here, or didn’t. Why? Because of the path forward. And because government has been watching and monitoring its people forever. This isn’t new. Technological innovations are. And with the speed of change, and the reliance on tech in a world that’s far exceeded its capabilities, along with the astounding amounts of disinformation—by intention and accident alike—knowing where we stand, and how this path forward might be better tipped to our favor by a fervent commitment to individualism, is not just a fanciful value of this very publication, but a seemingly imperative tool for survival.
And so: we present four historical accounts of watching the watcher watch the watched, mingled with adornments, Tricky Dicky, and brain scrambling. On the way, we’ll enjoy artworks from some recent literature that explores, albeit it oft-abstract, the themes afoot, along with bespoke artwork created for this issue by Adam Harvey, a researcher and artist based in Berlin focused on computer vision, privacy, and surveillance. Harvey is the bee’s knees as it relates to all this. His projects on surveillance include CV Dazzle (camouflage from face recognition), the Anti-Drone Burqa (camouflage from thermal cameras), SkyLift (a geolocation spoofing device), and MegaPixels (interrogating face recognition information supply chains). Currently he is a research fellow at the Künstlich Intelligenz und Medienphilosophie program at Karlsruhe Hf, and a digital fellow at the Weizenbaum Institut in Berlin. Boom!
Let’s Start with Keepers of the City, Shall We?
Written by Audra McClain
Before you go anywhere, it might be wise to understand what anywhere in the contemporary context means. Locate yourself. We’re about to break it down. “Anywhere”, by Oxford’s definition means: “in or to any place” but by the U.S.A.’s definition that means subject to police protection and oversight, right? The fourth amendment assures our right to privacy, but how much privacy do we really have? How much will we have in ten years’ time? The answer is in the air and it goes hand-in-hand with the question of whether police departments should be allowed to use facial recognition technology.
America is split on the issue. In places like San Francisco and Boston, the technology—for the purposes of law enforcement—has been banned for the time being. Tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft are refusing to sell their facial recognition technology to police departments with hopes that federal regulations are soon put in place. Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, was quoted on his refusal to sell the technology saying, “We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology.”
But just because these well-known companies aren’t selling their tech, doesn’t mean other companies aren’t jumping on the opportunity to do so. States like Florida and Michigan are still using the technology, despite the controversies surrounding it.
A report by The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) showed that with ideal conditions the best algorithms can be accurate over 99% of the time. That number starts to decrease as other factors such as lighting and positioning come into play. Even with pristine conditions the accuracy rate is only close to perfect with an error rate of 0.3%.
How about our pandemic coat of arms? When an individual is wearing a face mask the best tech fails around 5% of the time, and with other algorithms, it can fail up to half the time. These error percentages may sound small, but when it has potential to be used on millions of people... suddenly that number doesn't seem so tiny.
Just this summer, facial recognition technology wrongfully identified a Black Michigan man as the suspect in a 2018 robbery of a retail store in Detroit. After procuring a warrant, police arrested Robert Williams in front of his distraught family. He was interrogated and detained for thirty hours, only for the authorities to later realize their suspect was not their man—falsely identified by his driver’s license photo, presumably one of thousands combed through by an algorithm. Facial recognition technology failed Robert Williams.
In 2016, America had over two million people in its prison system. It is estimated that 20,000 of those people have been wrongfully convicted. How many more innocent people could these irresponsible technology mistakes put behind bars?
Not only does the technology sometimes fail despite perfect conditions, but it is also more flawed when used to identify Black people, and even more specifically with Black women. In a study by The NIST, the tech incorrectly identified Black women 10 times more than that of white women. This is shocking, though perhaps not surprising, given the conversations being waged at present concerning systemic inequality. Even our tech is disenfranchising.
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by four Minneapolis police officers. His death and the many other deaths of innocent Black Americans pushed people across all of this country to exit their homes and enter the streets to protest. Protest against police brutality in America. Protest against racial profiling. Protest against the wrongful treatment of people of color. Protest against the system in which these issues thrive.
Unraveling months later are the events in Portland where these protests are still flourishing. Like many of the big cities, conflict has emerged between the police and protesters, but unlike many cities, Portland is faced with a new issue: deployed federal agents. Federal agents were ordered by President Donald Trump to ensure no further violence erupts and results in property damage. Acting as guards, the agents have used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to “tame” the protesters. Additionally, there have been claims of unidentifiable agents placing protesters in unmarked vans.
But, was Portland ever really in such a violent state that this needed to happen? Or is this false information meant to deceive the public? Disinformation placed by officials to paint the protesters as evokers of violence, as the creators of the mass chaos? Disinformation meant to discredit all the change that these protests have already brought about and will continue to bring about? Disinformation to make it seem as though the president’s order is meant to keep America safe and “great again”? Disinformation to help Trump’s likeability?
According to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, the deployment of the agents has caused more tension than before. “Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism,” Wheeler told CNN, “And it’s not helping the situation at all. They’re not wanted here.”
Alas, disinformation campaigns are not a new concept in this country. Time and time again in history, superpower nations have purposely misinformed their citizens for the purpose of political and socio-economic control. The Soviet Union’s KGB was notorious for it, and the US saw itself matching, if not exceeding these tactics—fake organizations, forgeries, rigged public stunts, arrests, deaths—during the Cold War.
A new book by Thomas Rid, a political scientist best known for his work on the history and risks of information technology in conflict—Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare—published this April by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, brilliantly categorizes the roughly one hundred and twenty year history of so-called Active Measures—what intelligence officers used to call disinformation—orchestrated by the US government and its adversaries alike. Says Rid in the book’s introduction: We live in an age of disinformation. Private correspondence gets stolen and leaked to the press for malicious effect; political passions are in-flamed online in order to drive wedges into existing cracks in liberal democracies; perpetrators sow doubt and deny malicious activity in public, while covertly ramping it up behind the scenes.”
In the 1980s, Rid goes on later to describe, atop decades of misinformation campaigns, The Soviet Union spread false information that suggested the United States purposely created AIDS to use as a biological weapon. The infiltration of the messaging and information reached gay rights activists, here and abroad, many of the groups believed it to be true, and to the tune of the KGB’s intent, continued to spread the notion.
In 1997, a book called Headquarters Germany was authored by two fomer officers of the HVA. The Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung was the foreign intelligence service of the former German Democratic Republic. Its headquarters were in Berlin. Within the book’s 381 pages was a list of United States CIA members' names and other personal information. While the list correctly identified members of the CIA, it also listed names of real people and their personal information that were never involved with the U.S intelligence personnel, and this was no accident. The results of this disinformation are still yet to be truly understood.
As mentioned, disinformation was not only orchestrated by the Soviets. In the 1950s—and of particular interst to those of us in the magazine business—Project LCCASSOCK went underway. As the Cold War commenced and picked up steam, the CIA conceived of and produced a number of newspapers, magazines and brochures in Germany with an intent to “weaken and/or destroy Communist manifestations in the GDR and the Federal Republic.” One of the publications was a jazz magazine named Schlagzeug, which became very popular. The magazine was not “blatantly pro-capitalist” and did little to hurt the Communist manifestations. Instead it humorously became a highly regarded jazz journal enjoyed by many in Germany.
Point being, it has never been beyond “great” governments to purposely misinform the public for some type of political gain or manipulation tactic. We’re not unfamiliar with declarations of “fake news” used to discredit legitimate journalism. And beyond that, instances of deceit in the United States could very well be going unnoticed. We are supposed to be able to trust the government officials elected into office by the people, but a task that should be easy is unbelievably difficult.
Is that a cubist, intersectional fluorescent print pattern on your face, or are you just happy to see me?
Written by Eloisa de Farias
So you’re ready for an evening of good old fashioned merrymaking, but that fundamental question, perhaps the most important of our time, looms: what to wear? Well, if individualism is important to you—we’d presume as much given the rag you’re reading—then perhaps it’s important you apply some dazzle to that get-up. No, we’re not talking pink platinum leather culottes or LED embedded 7-inch robo-heels (though both sound great), we’re talking anti-surveillance threads and makeup.
The term ‘dazzle’ stems from a style of ship camouflage used extensively by Admiralty in the UK, and later by the US Navy, in World War I, and to a lesser extent in World War II. Dazzle in this case featured complex patterns of geometric shapes in contrasting colors, which interrupted and intersected with each other. Dazzle was not meant to conceal—like other types of camouflage—but rather to mess with an enemy’s estimates of a target’s speed, range, and directional disposition. Dazzle’s overall wartime success is inconclusive, based on numerous factors, but it did arguably influence the Cubist art movement—notably fronted by Pablo Picasso—and today’s anti-surveillance fashion.
In fact, anti-surveillance fashion has been on the rise more or less as long as facial technology-powered surveillance itself has. Facial recognition cameras categorize us by gender, race, and age, ultimately lumping us and our personalities into algorithms. So, as a general lack of privacy becomes normalized, so has creating looks that prevent identity monitoring, theft, and manipulation. But what else is this self-styled effort preventing? These avant-garde looks not only arguably deter cameras and technology, but the imperative avoidance of fashion conformity (yuck!).
The most noteworthy method for accomplishing Big Brother deception vis-a-vis fashion is by means of Computer Vision Dazzle Camouflage, better known as the aforementioned CV Dazzle, championed by Adam Harvey, the featured artist herein. Harvey has been a noteworthy voice in this space for well over a decade, and what’s fascinating about his work is the requisite responsiveness as technology evolves or changes.
Says Harvey on the portraiture pieces herein, which he created in Berlin: “These concept sketches from the CV Dazzle project show procedurally generated face camouflage patterns. Before generating actual facial prosthetics and makeup styles, CV Dazzle uses 3D modeling to test the effectiveness of patterns in simulated environments. The original faces are compared to the camouflage faces to get a similarity score. In this example, the male pattern received a cosine similarity metric of between 0.3 - 0.4 across various poses, while the female pattern received a cosine similarity metric of between 0.2 - 0.3. The minimum score for an automated face recognition system would typically be greater than 0.8. A score of 0.3 means these two faces are definitely not the same person. While these designs are still not quite practical for everyday use, this simulation system opens new possibilities for fashion designers to create and test new accessories to subvert facial recognition surveillance.”
One activist group that champions the spirit of CV Dazzle is a group called the Dazzle Club, founded by four artists—Emily Roderick, Georgina Rowlands, Anna Hart and Evie Price. The group meets up once a month in London to protest surveillance technology by sporting avant-garde looks painted on their faces. The Dazzle Club is a timely example of how individuality, fashion and non-conformity can all intersect in a practical way to combat the invasion of privacy that is increasingly concerning.
Non-conformity is hard, given the mass production, fast fashion world we live in. An interesting consideration of this is new hardback book, Enchanted Modernities: Mysticism, Landscape, and the American West, out via Fulgur. The book explores themes of Theosophy and its presence in visual art and music, particularly that of the expansionist American West in the twentieth century. “Theosophists believe there to be no fewer than six occult ‘planes of existence’ (astral, mental, Buddhic, spiritual, divine and logic) beyond the physical world, each characterized by finer rates of vibrational energy. Certain believers argued that “thoughts and feelings create vibrations, imperceptible to the untrained eye and ear, which manifest as various shapes, colors, and sounds depending on their clarity and spiritual content.”
So how does this connect to activism fashion? Well, put simply, we’re all unique beings. And the vibrations around us don’t have to be only the battery-powered hum of surveillance gear, but the colorific extensions of ourselves. Express that with face paint and garb. And here’s a shocker: not only does CV Dazzle challenge individuals to create their own looks, it also encourages participants to not post their looks on social media. The reason is to encourage privacy and discourage mimicry. The fashion world relies heavily on social posting, but is that actually encouraging self-expression? Or is self-expression better reserved for those bright colors in your surrounds—the individuals that form what we know as community. Designing things for the benefit of yourself and safety, instead of for social media clout and trend confirmation, is arguably the first big step to contemporary self-actualization.
In times like these, who needs honest company?
Written by Constanza Falco Raez
Ok then. You’re up on whether police are using facial recognition software in your city or town. You’re styled out in a dazzle do that would would have the staunchest dazzle advocates dizzy with approval. Now there’s the question of who to advance your Saturday night out with. We’d recommend these the sort of relations where trust is not the backbone. You read that right. We’d recommend a good band of liars.
Because lying is sometimes ok, right? The plain truth is not always the best choice. When one has someone’s best interests at heart, lying may very well be appreciated, if not encouraged, right? Is lying necessary? Research says: Yes! Mastering lying in the right way can actually help build connections, trust, and businesses. This is the conclusion of Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who studies deception and trust, and he believes that “we should be teaching our kids, students and employees when and how to lie.”
50 years ago, someone’s personal information could only be found in phone books, and finding that in combination with an address would be a stroke of luck. Nowadays, with just a google search, one can find almost everything about a person—from their education, career, and job to where their parents went on vacation last summer. Every action one takes online, on any website, leaves a path and stays on record, arguably forever. Think you’ve deleted your history? A court-issued subpoena—subject to even the most fractional kind of litigation—would say otherwise, for instance, and mobile phone companies are exceedly compliant in these circumstances.
Conversely, on the topic of being watched, today’s technology, of course, magnifies our capacity to invade someone’s privacy. Lurking has become part of our day to day, and without even knowing someone personally, one could feel like they’ve known each other for years.
Alas, technology is not bad in itself. It can prevent fraud, bullying, stalking, among other wrongdoings. In her book Lurking: How a Person Became a User, Joanne McNeil writes of the human being’s agency in the otherwise benign internet; “I fear that the media’s delayed—and often misplaced—concerns about technology has fostered an endless ping-pong of surface changes and tactics, rather than focus on structural changes like decommodification and decentralization to enact a better internet.” The internet, in all its wonder, is more the land of desires and projections, rather than the sober communication of the truth, which was presumably its initial intention.
During his presidency, Richard Nixon secretly taped every conversation that took place in the Oval Office. According to Nixon’s Chief of, the “audio recordings were the only way to ensure a full and faithful account of conversations and decisions.”
The Watergate scandal began in 1972 when a group of intruders sent by Nixon were caught wiretapping phones and stealing documents in the office of the Democratic National Committee in D.C. Afterwards, a handful of Nixon’s aides testified before a grand jury concerning the President’s intent to spy on the opposing political party, among other crimes. Nixon’s insistence on documenting all of his own conversation became his foil. The incident that followed is what is now known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
On Saturday, October 20, 1973, after Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox refused to cease his demanding of the incriminating tapes from the President, Nixon ordered senior members of his team to fire Cox. Sound familiar? However, both men instead refused and resigned their positions in protest. Nixon’s unprecedented effort to flex executive power, as well as attack his own Justice Department, caused more than 50,000 concerned citizens to send telegrams to Washington, most of them demanding his impeachment. From that night on, the battle over the White House tape recordings transfixed much of the nation.
Micro-moral of this tale? Don’t get caught, because that sparked the first investigation in this case, conducted by Nixon’s own Judiciary Department, who pushed Nixon’s closest aides to conceding his wrongdoings and the existence of the tapes to save their necks. Once all the information was aired, Nixon lost the public’s trust, and had to finally resign.
So what are we getting at? Well, we’re all a bit like Nixon now. Our participation in technology is electively logging all we say, receive, post, posit, and search, into a little drawer, and should we ever find ourselves in a pickle of sorts, there to substantiate or refute our agency in said pickle is everything we’ve ever done online. The bonds we forge with people are secondary to technology’s oversight.
So why run with liars on a night out in 2020? Because why not!? They’re a lot more fun and if they’re liars, what they’ve logged into their little drawer might not even be true!
Now if you’ll just hold still, I’ll erase all negative memories from last night, ok, sorta like a browser cache dump
Written by Lina Savage
So, arm in arm with a choice batch of liars, police on the scene, and threads designed to scramble, what’s next? A chip in our head? Well… yeah! At least the transhumanists would say so. Transhumanism is a philosophical movement that advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to enhance human intellect and physiology. In other words, why fight the tide? Technology is great, and if one’s banal laundry is the subject of scrutiny, who cares? If it’s dirty, that means it deserves to be known. Rather, optimize yourself with the latest and greatest, be that a node, a chip, or otherwise, and live a virtuous—and perhaps three times as long—a life.
Alas, the evolution of the transhumanist experience is a dubious one: if we are voluntarily incorporating these forms of technology into our anatomy for the purpose of self-betterment, is the act then, by nature, invasive? With all the oversight splled out on previous pages, do we need support from human ingenuity vis-à-vis technology to tip the scales? What is the difference between the subconscious awareness of being spied on through our everyday Google searches, versus the advancement and improvement of mental health by willing integration of process’ deemed invasive?
Let’s consider invasiveness, shall we? In 1935, the first brain surgery to treat mental illness was performed in Portugal by neurologist Egas Moniz. It was a procedure that involved drilling holes into a patient's skull, and Moniz coined it “leucotomy”. Psychiatrist Walter Freeman later brought this practice to America, but changed the name to “lobotomy”.
Freeman gradually became a travelling crusader of this procedure, as a total of 50,000 lobotomies were performed over the years. At the time, lobotomies were a method to improve all mental illnesses, ranging from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to occasional mood swings in growing teens. According to neurologist Elliot Valenstein, “Some patients seemed to improve, some became ‘vegetables,’ some appeared unchanged and others died.” The risks were large, but the alternatives were worse: drugs weren’t introduced until the mid-1950s, and psychiatric institutions were overcrowded. Patients, like Mona Gables’ mother, were desperate to try anything.
Mona Gable—as told in Not All There: My Mother’s Lobotomy—for as long as she could remember, always questioned the origins of what was underneath her mother’s bangs. There, beneath the bangs, sat a shiny square dent that Mona figured came from a fight, or a fall from a seizure (something she experienced often). Growing up, Mona resented her mother for the mysterious head dent, along with the wild and alarming stunts that she would pull: she had fits, she slept with military guys she would meet in a bar on Shelter Island, sneaked the keys to the station wagon to take it on a joy ride, and would start to cook hamburgers at 5:30 AM under the impression that it was dinnertime.
When Mona was seven, her father decided he no longer wanted to sleep with her mother. So, naturally, her mother moved into Mona’s room, and they slept alongside each other in twin beds for the next nine years. When her mother went out to drink, Mona would lie awake for hours awaiting her drunken arrival, and was thankful on the nights that she didn’t come home at all.
Not until Mona moved out for college and began therapy did she start to question the reason why her mother was the way she was. She slowly pieced together that her mother was a victim of a lobotomy in the 1940s, and was supposedly a fun and normal teenage girl prior to the surgery. Mona has since come to terms with the uncontrollable fits that her mother encounters to this day.
Mona’s mother’s surgery has undoubtedly invaded her understanding of one’s self for the remainder of her life. What was the results of the lobotomy and what was her real mother? Nowadays, it is easy to recognize these surgeries as ludicrous; in the 1940’s, however, the surgery was synonymous with recovery: the only chance at becoming “normal”.
The question still remains: if the surgery was technically an elected one, can it be seen as invasive? The lobotomies were meant to help—in fact they were proven to help in many cases. If Mona’s results had been different, would she still coin the lobotomy as “invasive”? Or her cure?
Oscar Winner Jordan Peele’s 2019 film, Get Out—now expressed in a hardback book this Fall, Get Out: The Complete Annotated Screenplay' (via D.A.P.),with an essay in support, a wealth of film stills, alternative endings and crib notes—elaborates on this contrast between invasive and elective, and the equivocal middle ground between the two. Peele illustrates how a white family invades the minds of its Black employees through three layers of manipulation: hypnotism, mental preparation, and brain transplantation. The brain transplantation “keeps intricate connections intact, so you won’t be gone, not completely. A sliver of you will still be in there somewhere; you’ll be able to see and hear what your body is doing, but your existence will be as a passenger.”
These conditions impose the illusion that you retain little autonomy, but autonomy nonetheless. Through this, Peele suggests the blurry line between what is self-determined and what is involuntary—specifically with the advent of modern-day technology, especially used against minority groups that hold less power—and that of choice. Are we being indoctrinated invasively, or does this come with the territory on a night out in 2020?
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