The name for the disciplinary and control practice of monitoring, aggregating, and sorting data is ATAVEILLANCE, named as such by Roger Clarke, who suggested nearly twenty-five years ago that it was then “technically and economically superior” to the two-way televisual media of George Orwell’s fictional universe.
Danilo Correale, National Anatema (We’re Sorry), 2012
courtesy Galleria Raucci/Santamaria, Napoli
Mr Bojangles … may also enjoy (2014–15), is an experiment in social critique that best represents the artist’s desire for direct and open contrast with the political and social system in which he lives and works. The project started when the artist opened an account on Amazon using a fake identity (Mr Bojangles) and bought a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital. For an entire year Correale bought a book per week – choosing the first one suggested by Amazon’s algorithm – and then returned each one to the company after sabotaging it by ripping out a page. As the weeks went by with simultaneous purchases and returns, Amazon’s algorithm was forced to start over, losing all logic, until it finally suggested that Mr Bojangles purchase the most diverse books that had nothing in common with the initial Das Kapital. As a whole, the work is a sabotage of the arithmetisation of the personal choices made by Amazon: Correale’s checkmate of the software to break up its compulsive algebraic continuity, overriding its function as the technological administration of desire.
In 2001, AMO, Rem Koolhaas’s Rotterdam-based research studio, proposed a new logo and flag for the European Commission: the barcode. More than a decade later, the sarcastic ‘€-conography’, as it was labelled, still casts its spell. Not just because European identity and politics are dominated by the markets, but also because barcodes – digital representations of data – are apt symbols of our data-driven societies. Data mining now allows increasingly accurate analysis of individual behaviour, consumption and connections, by extracting useful models or ‘patterns’ of information.
The Surrealists liked to proclaim that everyone who dreams is a poet, and Joseph Beuys that everyone who creates is an artist. So much for the utopian days of aesthetic egalitarianism; maybe the best we can say today is that everyone who compiles is a curator. We curate our favourite photographs, songs and restaurants, or use numerous websites and applications to do it for us. Although ‘curating’ promises a new kind of agency, it might deliver little more than a heightened level of administration, as cultural interests are packaged as ‘curated’ consumption. Often enough this packaging is algorithmically automatic: ‘If you like that, you’ll love this.’ Such ‘curating’ suits a postindustrial economy in which our main task, when it is not to serve, is to consume. And when we curate songs or restaurants, or Spotify or Eater do it for us, what do we actually produce? As ‘cognitive labourers’, we manipulate information, which is to say we curate the given, and this compiling often presumes a good amount of compliance. Who among us considers what is signed over when we click ‘I agree’?
The origin of Google’s power and monopoly is to be traced to the invisible algorithm PageRank. The diagram of this technology is proposed here as the most fitting description of the value machine at the core of what is diversely called knowledge economy, attention economy or cognitive capitalism. This essay stresses the need of a political economy of the PageRank algorithm rather than expanding the dominant critique of Google’s monopoly based on the Panopticon model and similar ‘Big Brother’ issues (dataveillance, privacy, political censorship). First and foremost Google’s power is understood from the perspective of value production (in different forms: attention value, cognitive value, network value, etc.): the biopolitical consequences of its data monopoly come logically later.