I am currently reading Liquid Surveillance by Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyon. It is another one of Bauman’s conversational books where we read a dialogue, this time between him and Lyon. This format actually works quite well in this debate as Lyon tries to lead Bauman into areas where he has not made unambiguous declarations. Such forays aren’t always as successful as one would hope, alas we are fascinated by Bauman not because of what he doesn’t say but because of what he does say.
The points I wanted to make about this text resonate with its focus on technologies of surveillance. From an academic point of view the development of the network as something more important than community is really key. The Social Sciences are paying serious attention to social networking sites, but it almost seems that there needs to be an overarching critical academic approach to it. something like ‘networkology’, that works with the foundations provided by sociology, anthropology, psychology and media and cultural studies, and then uses it to take account of how central social networking and media sites are in everyday life.
Bauman makes the point that the network is not like community, there isn’t a shared outlook, or similar geography, a shared culture or national perspective. Think of your Facebook friends or your Tumblr followers, you are the only thing that all of them share in common. Accordingly with such fragile ‘liquid’ bonds, network nodes work with a shady individualisation. The truth of the matter is that they are a series of disconnections that can be interconnected, but need not. Quoting Robert Dunbar, the human brain is suited for knowledge of up to 150 people, or 150 ‘meaningful relationships’. Facebook friends are thus a collection of acquaintances, unknowns, old friends, and intimates, muddled up with family too. Sharing information with such a vast array of people models an uneasy truth about the world…we know that we readily give ourselves over to methods of DIY surveillance, our phones, our loyalty cards, our Facebook accounts, but at the same time the fear is not ‘big brother is watching you’, it is the fear of exclusion, of being redundant, wasted, or forgotten that haunts the contemporary denizens of Bauman’s liquid modern world. This visibility is key and the network (both virtual and real world) is now tended with greater care than our community and cultural ties.
There is much more to this book. Some excellent debate on drones, remote surveillance, and even some revisiting of concepts from Modernity and the Holocaust. Notions of the value of technology, of the capacity for it to reflect human strengths and weaknesses, all provide stimulating reading.