Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dude, where's my safe space gone? Google mapping my (in)security

Today I'm not happy with Google. They've made my little home, which I had alsways felt was fairly invisible, and safely so, viewable by the entire world.

Yesterday I mentioned the way continuing technological developments are making it easier to carry out surveillance of people's daily activities, which renders many people vulnerable to control by authorities. I also referred to Michael and Michael's (2006) idea of the "cool" factor, which means large numbers of people are happy to put their personal lives on view in publicly accessible digital spaces like myspace and youtube.

Well, as most people realise, today Google Street View for NZ went live, with many people welcoming it, and some feeling cheated if their home isn't visible (like a lot of the people commenting on Russell Brown's blog). Others have concerns about privacy issues (as shown on TV3 news tonight).

As soon as I heard this images were being collected for Google Street View I was uneasy. I am a (no longer young) woman who lives alone in a very nice, secluded space amongst some trees and hidden away from the street. This has given me some pause with respect to my personal safety, especially when home alone at night. However, the place is within my price range, is in a beautiful spot, and my nearest neighbours are pretty close. But, more importantly, my sense of security has always been aided by my knowledge that few people know that my place even exists.

So, today I went to check Google Street View, in their maps section, to see exactly what it showed of my living space. Obviously as I can't be seen from the street, my home is not on Street View, and I'm very pleased about that. However, I did discover that my place is visible on the Satellite view. This really p***ed me off. A few years back when I first checked Google Earth, that level of detail didn't exist for my area. So, even though I had to look hard to work out which geometric space was my roof, I wonder how much more visible my home will become in the future. It feels like gradually encroaching surveillance of my personal space.

The TV3 News items said people could report any privacy concerns to Google, through a clickable link at the bottom of the Street View images. That option doesn't seem to be available for Google Satellite maps. Furthermore the links to information on Google's privacy policy didn't readily expose anything relevant to my concerns.

So I used the contact link and emailed Google. But I'm not holding my breath that they'll be interested in my concerns, or that they'll get back to me any time soon.

But surely such surveillance does raise both security and privacy issues, especially for women at home alone, and others amongst the more vulnerable in society. And how much longer before such technologies of surveillance develop so that we all perform our entire lives on a world wide Big brother set?

Furthermore, it seems to me like an invasion from a distant and foreign place. Google is a US company, although I guess they have offices in NZ. Presumably they are also making money from putting our personal and, for some of us, once safe spaces, on view to the world.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cylons, cyclic capitalism and technologies of change

There's an interesting piece on Chris Trotter's blog about Nikolai Kondratiev's theory of the way capitalism, rather than promoting continuous growth, follows a cycle of peaks and troughs. Not a particularly new idea, but it's pretty depressing, both because it indicates that we are entering a very deep trough, but also because we seem locked into these boom-bust cycles. This theory also links each rise towards a peak in capitalism to a new technological development:

1st wave 18th Century – steam engine.
2nd wave 1830s – steam engines, railways.
3rd wave 1880s - steel, electricity, chemical and heavy-engineering industries.
4th wave - petrochemical, automobile manufacturing, and other mass production industries.
5th wave – 1970s - revolution in telecommunications and information technology - personal computer, cellphones, and the Internet.

So, it seems to me that the current down-turn into depression could result in large numbers of people realising the extent of the destructiveness of these cycles of capitalism and start trying to develop a system based on sustainable production, social justice, supportive communities etc. Or the forces for a new wave of capitalism could already be marshalling within the current chaos. If so, what new technological development will it be harnessing to fuel the next capitalist growth cycle? A very likely contender could be the diverse developments occuring in relation to biotechnology.

Looking back, the whole IT revolution was pre-empted in a lot of sci fi of the 1960s: eg it was a common theme in the TV programme The Avengers, in which evil computer scientists, linked with foreign capitalist corporations attempt to dominate the world.In some of the most popular sci fi TV programmes of today, there is a common theme of biotechnologies and cyborgs: Heroes (super-human genetic mutants – could use their powers for good or evil, but the powers often corrupt), Battlestar Galactica (human made robots, self generate human-like cylons, so that now many cylons and humans don't now whether they are one or the other), Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles – also features human-like robots).

I was particularly thinking of things like microchip implants that are already being developed, and look likely to follow a trajectory that has gone from desktop home computers, through mobile and wearable technologies, to implants used for medicine, surveillance, policing and military operations (The Center for Global Research on Globalisation, Canada), and art and communications. It could see a shift from microchips in our passports, to microchip implants as personal ID, and communication device.

It could result in whole populations being physically jacked into networked systems. It reminds me of some Doctor Who episodes, where they move from the Emma Peel Avengers-type Robots (Cybernauts), as clumsy robots manipulated by an evil genius, to Doctor Who’s cybermen, the result of human upgrades. And this is related in Doctor Who to alternative realities, where the communication systems infiltrate bodies, eg the TV set during the Britiish queen’s coronation, and realities where people are physically networked through mind-controlling ear attachments.

It’s already moved beyond sci fi (K & M.G. Michael, 2006) and I think also could include a “cool” factor that would mean increasingly overt forms of repression may not be needed to control populations, while simultaneously fuelling capitalist accumulation and inequalities: think of how myspace, and mobile phones etc are embraced as cool while also making surveillance and control potentially easier for authorities.

So how should we be responding to the developments in biotechnology in a way that challenges the way they could fuel a new cycle in capitalism? Proposals for a green new deal (New Economics Foundation) have possibilities.

I was thinking to include changes in gender constructions and relations in this post, but perhaps that will best be kept for a future blog entry.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Women, Power, and the Casual Circulation of Misogyny & Lesbophobia

Chris Trotter published a much discussed response to the NZ election last weekend, in which he presented his views on the change from a centre left to a centre right government. He concluded that:
It was these: the men who just couldn’t cope with the idea of being led by an intelligent, idealistic, free-spirited woman; the gutless, witless, passionless creatures of the barbecue-pit and the sports bar (and the feckless females who put up with them); who voted Helen Clark out of office.
Many people posted criticisms. My responses were:

I do find it dispiriting that there has been so much mysogynistic and homophobic invective directed at Clark. It’s not something I hear among people I know, but it seems to be quite pervasive online & in talk-back radio. I had thought NZ society had generally become more enlightened. Many people overseas that I know, saw Clark as a sign MZ is a forward-thinking and enlightened country, and are sorry to see her voted out.

I have come across several despondent people in the last few days in the places I work, and they generally can’t believe we have a change of government. Some of the most despondent are men. They don’t follow political blogs online or, as far as I know, listen to talk-back radio. But one youngish man expressed similar ideas to Chris above, though he expressed it in a more subdued and less accusing way. He said he thought the people that voted Labour/Clark out must mostly be older men who don’t like having a woman PM.

I don’t know how true that is, but it does feel like 2 steps forward and (hopefully only) 1 step backwards, before the country moves forward again in relation to attitudes to gender and sexuality.

And this:

It only takes a shift of maybe up to 5-10% of voters to swing an election. So the mysogynistic elements who swung to the right in this election aren’t the majority of National/right voters. Thus the men Trotter is criticising does not need to be more than this 5-10% of voters.

Of course there are plenty of National/Right supporters, who, along with their MPs don’t express their criticism of Labour/Clark in msyogynistic terms. However, those elements do exist in fairly substantial numbers, and have been pretty evident within the campaign against Clark/Labour.

Sexism, homophobia and anti-woman invective is fairly common in the comments on a couple of prominent right wing blogs, and over the last few years such expressions have fanned some of the angst on talk-back radio & campaign heckling. They would never be allowed to remain, and/or exist unchecked in left wing organisations. Yet IMO, the more official face of National/the right, while not using such terms themselves, do not seem to express their distaste for it, benefit from it, and in some ways seem to actively fan its flames.

The National party has supported the above mentioned right wing blogs/blog owners by working in concert with them in some ways, and by National MPs candidates publicly saying they regularly read them, without any criticism of the mysogyny & homophobia threaded throught them.

As long as those sort of elements have a fairly prominent visbility amongst right wing supporters, and remain unchecked by the majority on the right, then the right will be seen as supporting and benefitting from such mysogyny and homophobia.

Anna on the handmirror blog, both agreeed and disagreeed with Trotter

Jenny Shipley wore a lot less misogynist crap than Helen Clark did. I think it was not just Clark's gender which got her offside with some - rather, it was the fact that she was a woman advocating socially progressive politics. Jenny was cut some slack because she was a mum - she fit the expected female career path better than the 'childless lesbo', as Young Nats called Clark - and advocated policies which did not challenge gender or family norms, as civil unions and the repeal of section 59 have done.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Golden moments

It is just soooo cool to see NZ celebrating a hard-won achievement by such a beautifully assertive, straight-talking, cheeky and talented woman!!!!

Go Valerie!!! 'Smack the crap out of it" indeed!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pushing the polls? Subliminal Nats' promotion?

I got a phone call just as I was about to start watching Women's Murder Club on TV. I agreed to do this phone poll, even though it meant missing the beginning of the programme. I had always wondered why I never got contacted for the widely publicised political polls, so wanted to be able to give my views. However, as it turned out, the questions made this hard to do.

The young woman asking the questions said she was from a company that sounded like Courier. I tried to get some information from her about who had commissioned the poll, but all she could/would say was that they did political surveys.

As the survey progressed I became increasingly unhappy with the questions. I said so to the interviewer. She said others had made the same comments "this evening". Too many of the questions seemed to be based on right wing assumptions, and many were far too simplistic for me to easily provide an answer.

She began by asking if I was planning to vote in the parliamentary elections, and if so, who for. Some of the questions went something like this (based on my memory):

Which party did I think would be most successful in "cracking" down on

Which Party did I think could "fix" the health system?

Which party would have a tax system that would "reward hard work"?

These were some of the questions I criticised, explaining why I couldn't give a straight forward answer.

The first assumes crime is out of control, pandering to the kind of moral panic the political right and much mainstream media tend to promote. The second assumes the health system is broken. I said I didn't think this was the case for either, though I did think they could be further improved.

The tax questions seems to tap into a right wing assumption that all higher paid people always work harder than all of those on lower pay, and that they therefore deserve tax cuts.

There were similar slants to questions on welfare, mortgages, and too many questions asking for the "best" party generally. There was a whole bunch of questions asking to compare party leaders, especially Labour/Clark and National/Key, indicating a first past the post slant to some questions. I complained that it often depended on the issues, though I always tended to answer in favour of one or more than one left leaning parties.

At the end I told the interviewer that I wasn't criticising her, but that I thought it was a poor questionnaire. I basically was saying that whoever designed it, didn't do a very good job.I did a bit of a quick search online, but could find nothing on "Courier" company that does surveys, so I'm a little suspicious. Such a questionnaire could easily push people who didn't have strong political views and/or knowledge towards thinking we needed a right wing government.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Trains are cool: hurrah for the tax increases

I regularly go by train to work in Auckland. I like that it is less stressful than coping with some car drivers who are aggressively self-centred in their driving, and who take every opportunity to get an inch ahead of other drivers

I like that, when necessary, I can do some work on the train. I like the sense of community. Some days there's lots of lively chatter on the trains (and not just by people talking loudly on mobiles). And I like it when the train runs on time.

I don't like the frequent delays. (Last night there were major delays due to some unnamed incident in Otahuhu). Often a train has to wait for an oncoming train to free up the line so it can continue. This means the 'express" train is not so express. Like last night, the express (running late) made unscheduled stops at stations. One or two people stood hopefully outside the closed doors, becoming increasingly frustrated that the doors never opened.

So the train system desperately needs an upgrade. Though I like the rather quaint system of "conductors" who collect our tickets; especially the cheerful and friendly ones. Sadly, I think an upgrade will do away with them.

There was some angst yesterday about the increase in Auckland Regional road taxes to help pay for the rail upgrade.

New Zealand Herald: Motorists hit with new fuel taxes
Auckland motorists face new fuel taxes of up to 10c a litre from 2011, to pay for electric trains and other congestion-busting public transport investments.
As the above article says, the Automobile Association is complaining about lack of consultation with motorists and other Aucklanders. Well as an Auckland motorist, and train traveller, I am happy to see this money being raised for improvement of the rail system. This is going to be increasingly important form of travel in the future. People need to get used to the idea that, in the future, private cars will no longer be the dominant form of transport in NZ.