Rebecca Kerlin Jane and Jaron Went to Town
Digital wet transfer print on polymerized cloth, digital print on inkjet luster paper, digital print on acetate, digital print on mylar, cloth thread, nylon thread, zip ties, electrical and telecommunications hardware and wire, corded light fixture, CFL lamp, LED fixtures.
Installation at Zhou B Art Center, On the Precipice group exhibit, Chicago IL, May 2013
Jane and Jaron Went to Town is a manifestation of the Drone Flowers' expressions of conflict and collusion between virtual and material economies and cultures, along theoretical lines which I understand Jaron Lanier's philosophy to encompass, and the city as self-organizing and, pace Jane Jacobs, self-perpetuating, that is to say as an organism.
In late 2012, the Sheriff's Office of Alameda County, California began seeking county approval for the purchase of one or two small unmanned aircraft, drones. Public outcry occurred. At the time of this writing, the county has been deferring its decision.
Should the purchase have been approved, Alameda County would have been the first local Californian government to fly its own drones. At the time of the attempt and for some time after media coverage of drones and their ramifications was less searching than it is at present, and the California state legislature had yet to take up the issue.
In early 2013, a small flying vehicle was spotted over a West Oakland neighborhood. The sighting lit up some Oakland-centered social media clusters and politically-oriented media channels. As the discussion flowered, I watched from my lilypad almost 2000 miles away. Whereas the local aspects of the conversation might have previously led me to view the uproar as an unfolding of strength, now with distance the distributed and locationless participants came into sharper focus. Compared to discussions of technopolitics during which I'd been local to the sparking incident, this one suddenly seemed much more fragile.
In blossoming under stress, are citizen protests and public outcries an example of Nassim Taleb's antifragility? Yet, technologies and structures of control also prosper under such conditions. Which, if either, social structure has the best chance of survival?
Jane Jacobs wrote of cities' growth in terms of import replacement and the subsequent technological elaboration/obsolescence cycle. The drone as a technological object resembles the hobbyist's RC airplane or helicopter, the householder's security camera and the neighborhood watch, which themselves are offshoots of earlier technologies as well as, in the latter two cases, replacements for earlier ways of being amongst ourselves which are no longer perceived as sufficient to meet the stresses of today's society. Though a mere toy to the householder, the drone is, to law enforcement, a welcome extension, elaboration and replacement of less efficient means.
Germane to Jacobs' argument is the concept of power imbalance. Cities that depend on imports and regions that provide only supply lack agency. Jaron Lanier's critique of the information economy, of which these drones and even nannycams are definitely a part, is that its economic foundation relies primarily not on building upon but rather on cannibalizing the creative engine of economies while, in establishing data as a territory of extraction, repatriating most of the populace to supply regions.
Colonization takes many forms, each assisting the other. For example, the Chicago Marina City condominium board once apparently attempted to restrict photography of its publicly visible aspects, which comprise a portion of the drone flowers' imagery. Operational efficiency is frequently achieved through standardization; it is a received truth that the most efficient organisms win. The Marina Towers Condo Association is small and would never be able to force other cities' marina towers to change their names. The curtain wall skyscraper on the other hand is so efficient that its aesthetic covers the globe and has made many cities indistinguishable from each other except in their relatively few landmark buildings. These are sometimes asserted, even if debatably, to be copyright-protected by the creators or owners thence by media forces which perhaps do not wish to engage in legal battles.
Discussing Edward Snowden, Bruce Sterling wrote in The Ecuadorian Library that "We're half actual and half digital now", and that Snowden is (and I posit that we all are) engaged in the "wrestling match of virtuality and actuality, an irruption of the physical into the digital". The public's discomfort with the NSA revelations accretes not so much around the idea that the usual citizen would or could affect the digital in any meaningful way, but around the fact that the digital can and does - is designed to - intrude into the fleshly life. This leads to myths, which may have contributed to the Long Island journalist's perception that the FBI had been watching her husband's Google Searches, and it leads to paranoia. Corporations have used legal chilling effect tactics to damage the lives of those suspected by the company of stepping on their turf, often quite simply in order to make examples of the targets. It is solely the growing surveillance capability, facilitated by the power imbalances which it succors, that is embedded in the digital world which makes this last type of action broadly feasible, and so with this we return to the drones.