Who do you think you are?
Review: Karin Spaink, Wie is U?
Ever had a Déjà vu, the feeling that you have experienced something before? It’s a strange feeling. You can’t exactly explain what it is and where it comes from, but it’s there. You know you’ve been somewhere before or heard something before. Mostly the experience lasts only a moment and then it’s gone. However, there are rare cases of Déjà vu that lasted for hours. One man, lets call him Larry, knew every inch of a town, he knew where the church was, he could find the grocery store without navigation. He remembered everything. But the strangest thing is: he’d never visited the town in his whole life. It was one major Déjà vu. Well, I had the same experience as Larry, while reading Wie is U?, a book created by Karin Spaink. There was absolutely no new information in this book. Everything stated by the authors was at least already been said and done a thousand times.
Surveillance is the key theme of this book. Each author tells his or her side of the story called new media. Subjects as identity, privacy and politics are mentioned. Richard Rogers, Thomas Elsaesserr, Gilles Deleuze, Greg Elmer, Kevin Haggerty, all great men who have written about surveillance of the web preceding this collection of essays. So, why do it again? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the subject. Nowadays it is still an interesting thing to talk about. The only thing missing is a new angle, a story left untold. Every word in every paragraph has been told many times before. I think it is time for some new information, a fresh breeze through the new media landscape.
Every step you’ll take on the web leaves traces, like footprints in the sand. You can erase those steps by deleting cookies on you computer. However, the web will always know where you’ve been. It keeps track of all you steps. Big Brother is watching you. ‘To participate in consumer society, you have to be watched’. (Rogers, 2008:2) The writers are aware of the problems related to surveillance. They fear for ones privacy. Personal information is stored in huge databases and used for all kind of purposes. The problem is you don’t know who has access to that information and what those unknown others will do with it.
Most participants in the consumer society know they’re being watched, especially those who will read this book. Know your audience! The simple, naive housewife may not be aware of the dangers of surveillance. And she may never be, because she will never lay eyes on this book. For the others is it just a summery of what they have already heard. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good to raise awareness, but there are limits. To most people it is the same story all over again. Nobody really listens anymore. All they hear is: blah, blah, blah.
It is a disappointment to see this book going to waste, but it is one thing I’ll predict, mainly because of the reasons mentioned above. I understand the cause writer and creator Karin Spaink raises. I too wonder about surveillance. However, I’m not really worried about the consequences. You can call it naïve, ignorant. I think you shouldn’t be worried about it too much; otherwise you’ll get all paranoid. You might not feel safe anymore. Not online and maybe not even offline. That is not the way I want to go and I hope it isn’t the direction the writers were aiming for.
The grand opening of the book is a story by columnist Karin Spaink. She starts by telling the history of the phone. Then she works her way through social network sites and ends with her concerns about surveillance and privacy. She worries that the more we publish about ourselves the more reason there is for the government to store that data. “As technology intertwines more with our daily lives, the government will urge even more towards them. And that intruder, as one might fear, won’t leave our home anymore.” (Spaink, 2010:31)
The horror of the web continues with the essay of Dirk van Weelden. He thinks the use of our leisure time is like working. When we buy a book on Amazon or participate on social networking sites, we generate information. This information is stored and used for all kinds of purposes. He is very skeptical about this development. He believes the government doesn’t pay enough attention to this growing problem.
In the light of agenda setting I think this book is a very decent attempt to attract the attention of the government. It illustrates very well the surveillance problems of the web. Although this book states nothing new, which irritated me, it is a very good summary of the surveillance problems concerning web 2.0. These essays are very easy to read and give a great overview. In that case this book is pretty good.
The darkest pages of the book are written by Bart Jacobs. He is a member of the advice committee of Bits of Freedom. This organization is very keen on raising awareness about surveillance. They want to protect the digital human rights. Jacobs is very negative and is constantly warning about dangers of the web. He even warns about evil deceivers on the web – commercial parties – luring people into traps, tricking you into giving up information. He thinks we should strive towards a controlled-control-society. It is a place where individuals can manage their own data. They will decide whether information is used or not and for what purposes. It is a very noble initiative, but totally infeasible. The web is just too distributed to exert control.
Raising awareness is a good thing; gaining political attention is even greater. I seriously hope this book will get the attention it deserves. Maybe that housewife will find this book among her husband’s belongings. Maybe she will read it. But what happens when we’re cautious? Will it help us? No, not really. The web is structured to keep an eye on its users. Surveillance lies in the architecture of the web. The only thing we can do about it is leaving the online world behind. And we all know: that is not an option.
Besides the point of repeating what has already been told, this collection of essays is pretty good. Like I said: they are very easy to read, give great inside in the surveillance on the web and the writers even come with some advice. But what point, other than raising (political) awareness, can these authors possible make? Spaink gives one great advice. A thing we can all learn from. She thinks we should all strive for data hygiene. This means that we all take good care of our data and that of others. “In a society that structurally depends on information we can’t permit being careless with this information.” (Spaink, 2010:74)
All negativity aside, I think that everyone should read this book once. Most of the time it will be no new information, but for those ignorant people who use the web it might me a wake up call. Maybe they will take better care of their precious data. Maybe they will succeed to withstand the power of the evil deceivers of the web. And maybe, just maybe, there will come a day where you don’t have to worry about what happens to your data. Where your personal information is safe and this book will no longer be necessary. One can only hope, how idle it may be.
This book is part of a series called The Next Ten Years.