July 22nd, 2008

Held Accountable

We have internalized the logic of surveillance to such a degree that we present ourselves for punishment before we're asked to do so. "That's so 80s," the voice in my head objects, recalling that story of a mob banging on the door of a lecture hall, desperate to be included in the theorist's ambit. Still, part of extricating ourselves from the bondage of the present means seeing not only breaks with the past, but bridges. Turn your head slightly to one side and the postmodern corporate headquarters with the mirrored glass stands out from the Eisenhower-era strip mall behind it like a ripe, red tomato against a muddy field. Turn your head the other way, though, and the structure incorporates what it was meant to supercede, a potent reminder that it was born of the same fixation on growth. So, yes, the idea that we eagerly abet the documentation of our every move is not a fresh insight. But it's also true that we have more insidious and subtle means of abetting than we did in previous decades. Turning around at the angry cry of a megaphone is one thing. Anticipating that cry so intuitively that you walk up to a person who just might be an undercover cop with a list of your day's minutiae is another. This is the secret meaning of the transparency we promote in our going public, the fact that we are intently producing alibis for crimes that have yet to be committed.