All posts filed under “Pervasive computing

Reversing the emphasis of a control environment

Image from Flickr user Monkeys & Kiwis

Image from Monkeys & Kiwis (Flickr)

Chris Weightman let me know about how it felt to watch last Thursday’s iPod Flashmob at London’s Liverpool Street station: the dominant sense was of a mass of people overturning the ‘prescribed’ behaviour designed into an environment, and turning the area into their own canvas, overlaying individualised, externally silent experiences on the usual commuter traffic.

Probably wouldn’t get away with that sort of thing at an airport any more anyway, but what will happen to this kind of informal gathering in the era of the societies of control? When everyware monitors exactly who’s where and forces the barriers closed for anyone hoping to use the space for something other than that for which it was intended?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

Remote magnetic manipulation of nervous systems - Hendricus Loos
An image from Hendricus Loos’s 2001 US patent, ‘Remote Magnetic Manipulation of Nervous Systems’

In my review of Adam Greenfield‘s Everyware a couple of months ago, I mentioned – briefly – the work of Hendricus Loos, whose series of patents cover subjects including “Manipulation of nervous systems by electric fields”, “Subliminal acoustic manipulation of nervous systems”, “Magnetic excitation of sensory resonances” and “Remote magnetic manipulation of nervous systems”. A theme emerges, of which this post by Tom Coates at Plasticbag.org reminded me:

“There was one speaker at FOO this year that would literally have blown my brain away if he’d happened to have had his equipment with him. Ed Boyden talked about transcranial magnetic stimulation – basically how to use focused magnetic fields to stimulate sections of the brain and hence change behaviour. He talked about how you could use this kind of stimulation to improve mood and fight depression, to induce visual phenomena or reduce schizophrenic symptoms, hallucinations and dreams, speed up language processing, improve attention, break habits and improve creativity.

He ended by telling the story of one prominent thinker in this field who developed a wand that she could touch against a part of your head and stop you being able to talk. Apparently she used to roam around the laboratories doing this to people. She also apparently had her head shaved and tattooed with all the various areas of the brain and what direct stimulation to them (with a wand) could do to her. She has, apparently, since grown her hair. I’d love to meet her.”

Now, the direct, therapeutic usage of small-range systems such as these is very different to the discipline-at-a-distance proposed in a number of Loos’s patents (where an ‘offender’ can be incapacitated, using, e.g. a magnetic field), but both are architectures of control: systems designed to modify, restrict and control people’s behaviour.

And, I would venture to suggest, a more widespread adoption of magnetic stimulation for therapeutic uses – perhaps, in time, designed into a safe, attractive consumer product for DIY relaxation/stimulation/hallucination – is likely to lead to further experimentation and exploration of ‘control’ applications for law enforcement, crowd ‘management’, and other disciplinary uses. I think we – designers, engineers, tech people, architects, social activists, anyone who values freedom – should be concerned, but the impressive initiative of the Open-rTMS Project will at least ensure that we’re able to understand the technology.

Some links: miscellaneous, pertinent to architectures of control

Ulises Mejias on ‘Confinement, Education and the Control Society’ – fascinating commentary on Deleuze’s societies of control and how the instant communication and ‘life-long learning’ potential (and, I guess, everyware) of the internet age may facilitate control and repression:

“This is the paradox of social media that has been bothering me lately: an ’empowering’ media that provides increased opportunities for communication, education and online participation, but which at the same time further isolates individuals and aggregates them into masses –more prone to control, and by extension more prone to discipline.”


Slashdot on ‘A working economy without DRM?’ – same debate as ever, but some very insightful comments


Slashdot on ‘Explaining DRM to a less-experienced PC user’ – I particularly like SmallFurryCreature’s ‘Sugar cube’ analogy


‘The Promise of a Post-Copyright World’ by Karl Fogel – extremely clear analysis of the history of copyright and, especially, the way it has been presented to the public over the centuries


(Via BoingBoing) The Entertrainer – a heart monitor-linked TV controller: your TV stays on with the volume at a usable level only while you keep exercising at the required rate. Similar concept to Gillian Swan’s Square-Eyes

Spiked: When did ‘hanging around’ become a social problem?

A playground somewhere near the Barbican, London. Note the sinister 'D37IL' nameplate on the engine

Josie Appleton, at the always-interesting Spiked, takes a look at the increasing systemic hostility towards ‘young people in public places’ in the UK: ‘When did ‘hanging around’ become a social problem?’

As well as the Mosquito, much covered on this site (all posts; try out high frequency sounds for yourself), the article mentions the use of certain music publicly broadcast for the same ‘dispersal’ purpose:
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‘Carmakers must tell buyers about black boxes’

A traffic jam in south London, 2002

According to Reuters,

“The [US] government will not require recorders in autos but said on Monday that car makers must tell consumers when technology that tracks speed, braking and other measurements is in the new vehicles they buy.
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The Privacy Ceiling

Scott Craver of the University of Binghamton has a very interesting post summarising the concept of a ‘privacy ceiling’:

“This is an economic limit on privacy violation by companies, owing to the liability of having too much information about (or control over) users.”

It’s the “control over users” that immediately makes this something especially relevant for designers and technologists to consider: that control is designed, consciously, into products and systems, but how much thought is given to the extremes of how it might be exercised, especially in conjunction with the wealth of information that is gathered on users? Read More