Today, March 9th 2010 I participated in an interactive workshop at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto titled Surveillance and Civic Action. Organized by Andrew Clement and Kate Milberry of The New Transparency Project, the purpose of the event was to bring together as many different perspectives as possible regarding the rise of surveillance in our society.
Each participant in the workshop offered some sort of presentation or demo that showcased their work or thoughts on the broader subject of surveillance.
However surveillance was really just a thread that connected other topics, and not the primary focus of the day long discussion. Instead surveillance was used as a segue to all sorts of spheres that relate to how our society is transforming in this age of the Internet.
In the same way that environmentalism has helped us become aware of our symbiotic relationship with the environment, perhaps something similar is required to help us understand our symbiotic relationship with cyberspace.
While the language and discussion in today's workshop was generally accessible, it was also fairly sophisticated. The level of knowledge and expertise in the room was impressive. In bringing this group together Kate and Andrew initially sought to include academics and activists, yet it was quickly clear that we each had more to our identities than these simple categories.
We also recognized the importance of expanding this conversation, and opening to the public participation in this ongoing dialogue. At a basic level, I want the research that was shared today to obtain greater visibility and reach than it currently does. The problem with academics is that they so rarely leave the ivory tower to realize that so much more awaits them in the popular culture. The more time they spend engaging and conversing with the public the more accurate their research will be and the more potential rewards to be shared by all.
Take for example the notion of surveillance literacy, that gives a citizen the ability to understand the extent to which they are monitored and why. This is something that can easily be shared and can empower a larger discussion around appropriate use and regulation.
In order to get that discussion going, the participants of today's workshop agreed to meet again, this time under the name, The Surveillance Club, which would be an inclusive attempt to continue and expand the conversation about the rise and role of surveillance in our society.
The idea of The Surveillance Club reminds me of The Media Collective which was a similar concept back in the web's early days. Both seek to understand the intangible and make it tangible via collective conversation and action. Will be interesting to see what sort of characters are attracted to such a proposition.
The next meeting of the Surveillance Club will be held in Toronto at InterAccess on Tuesday April 6th at 7pm. If you are concerned about or interested in the rise and use of surveillance in our society then please join us. We welcome your participation.