When I was creating my seminar presentation on Stiegler, I had a couple topics that I wound up cutting to meet the time constraints (which I failed to meet anyway) and because I felt they were less relevant to the overall course material, but I thought it would be nice to get some sort of use out of them, so here they are, slightly refitted make a coherent blog post:

Traceability

So the issue of “the trace” comes up a couple of times in the interview, the first time in the context of the traces of ourselves that we want to leave behind us through technology in order to preserve some sort of immortality for our selves:

“…technical objects that are made for repeating memory itself…that are made to store mnemic traces. Because from the moment when we can store memory itself…we have the possibility of the repetition of something mortal” (3).

However, Dr. O’Gorman brings up an important issue with the existence of that trace in terms of how it can be used, its potential threat:

“It’s important to delete. Because if we’re always in the process of self-recording, self-archiving, exteriorizing our memories, we leave traces everywhere as a result. And this could be dangerous” (6).

I take his point to be, and please correct me if I’m misinterpreting, that there is a danger both in terms of an ever-increasing surveillance by those in power and, in addition, that the little traces of ourselves everywhere, can easily be exploited by the “programming industry”.

Interestingly Stiegler argues against the need to eliminate the trace, instead saying, “The question is not how to prevent the recording of traces. The question is to create a consciousness of the recording of traces, a politic of the recording of traces” (6).

Now, it’s pretty much a given that wherever you go these days, you’re being recorded, leaving a trace of yourself somewhere. We also often intentionally leave traces of ourselves around, especially on the internet (look at this blog, for instance). And this can often be a bit overwhelming, and at the same time, we often avoid thinking about it. I just wish to provide one example of how we are traced online:

Stiegler mentions leaving traces while doing Google searches, which reminded me of this little “feature” on Google that records my location and uses it to send me more focused “hits” (and advertising):

And even better, it can’t be turned off:

So yes, Google not only knows what I like to search for, but where I live. And they’re storing that information. Another example would be Amazon, which likes to record my purchases, or even just items I’ve looked at, and helpfully suggest new consumables for me to buy.

However, it’s also possible to use the traces ourselves, and turn it back on the “programming industry” as well as centralized authorities, which I think is what Stiegler’s getting at with his “politic of the recording of traces”—basically increased awareness of these traces and how to use them. This is probably a more obvious example of a “trace” than we usually think of when we hear the word, but the fallout from the fatal tasering of Robert Dziekanski  by the RCMP demonstrated how the traces left by authorities committing serious, illegal, and in this case lethal, injustices can lead to them being caught lying about it by bystanders.

And of course, to truly be rid of the trace, you might as well as to be rid of all technology, so there’s that, too.

Moving on to the other deleted slide, I also wanted to discuss metadata:

Metadata

“We are living in an epoch that, because of digital networks, and in particular of course the web, the Internet, something is being produced that never before existed, in my view not since the origin of humanity. It’s that everyone can participate in the production of metadata. Metadata have existed for over 3000 years, when they appeared in what is actually Iraq now, in Mesopotamia. And since then, up until the 1990s, there has never been a situation where everyone could produce metadata. It was always very particular and very centralized systems, systems of power, which took control over the production of metadata” (6).

So, first, you will all be terribly surprised to learn that “metadata” is data about data. In my own experience I’ve usually seen “metadata” online refer to everything from background HTML code about the HTML code to  those little star ratings people now leave beside restaurant reviews, and, of course, the ever popular “like” button on Facebook.

Now, in the context of the trace, this mass participation in the production of metadata can be part of the issue of our own traceability since, in our adding information about information, we’re leaving traces of our own thoughts, opinions, and tastes lying around the internet. It’s worth noting that a lot of companies are very keen on encouraging metadata production by consumers, as it can help with their marketing, among other reasons.

However, Stiegler does make a good point in that this production of metadata makes an important shift in who can control it. Now any time a corporation says something, it is possible for people to easily comment on what the corporation said and spread that comment to a worldwide audience.

Also, this change in metadata production can, in the face of the disindividuation created by the “programming industries” potentially lead to a form of online transindividuation as people use metadata as a form of social information production (of course, contrast this with the potentially isolating effects of the online “social” environment that cuts us off from face-to-face interaction).

Anyway, while I ultimately found them a bit unrelated to the main thrust of my presentation (although I did go ahead and talk about flash mobs anyway), I was intrigued by Stiegler’s notion of sort of democratizing all these new media-enabled abilities (the trace, metadata, “happenings”), especially the tension between their use as tools of the people and as tools of the programming industries.

Work Cited

O’Gorman, Marcel and Bernard Stiegler. “Bernard Stiegler’s Pharmacy: A Conversation.” Forthcoming in Configurations.

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