Tag Archives: Citizen Four

Ask Yourself, Is it Smart?

Five years on from Edward Snowden’s disclosure that governments collect huge amounts of data from “regular” citizens, it’s kind of perplexing to hear so many people caught up by the Alexa/Echo bug. Suspicious of many “smart” innovations, it is easy to turn down such things as “smart” light bulbs, kettles, electricity/gas meters, and so on. I mean, why would you want such things?


And then there is the latest trend for voice collecting devices to be fitted around the home (bad enough that we have to carry mobile phones with us, but at least you can leave it in a drawer and exit the room). The Alexa/Echo thing means that wherever you are in the house it’s listening. And so, this begs the question, posed nicely in today’s The Guardian article commemorating the day that people got to know how interested their governments are in their everyday activities: “Why, just a few years after a global scandal involving government surveillance, would people willingly install always-on microphones in their homes?”citizenfour

Now that is a very good question, and if one requires a reason not to do such an idiotic thing, just spend a couple of hours watching Citizen Four, the documentary on Snowden and the actions he took on behalf of fellow citizens (here’s a free version– curious that the official site doesn’t let you watch it for free).

Citizen Four versus Snowden – Who Wins?

It seems like yet another disappointing blow for counter cultural forces, if that’s even a term that applies here, when we learn that a feature film is coming out of Hollywood to fill us in on the “truth” behind the Edward Snowden whistle-blowing episode of recent times. What, and this really is a pressing question, is so wrong with Citizen Four that a Snowden even has to be made? Depending on how you like your conspiracy theory kind of stuff, it’s easy to imagine that O. Stone has done all manner of freaky stuff to ramp up the tension between the NSA and Snowden himself, and then presumably also the Kremlin, given Russia’s role in housing Snowden.


But what is the overall effect of such profiteering meddling? Will we learn anything more from Stone’s film? Citizen Four seemed a pretty good effort at uncovering, potentially, a whole hornet’s nest of deception and lies and darn right Machiavellian plotting on the part of the NSA and GCHQ, so where does Snowden come in in all of this? If, yet again, we end up with a dumbed-down approach to something that, if true (Snowden’s accusations that the NSA (and GCHQ) has the ability to spy on ALL its citizens), should be investigated by all manner of responsible bodies (but not really sure who or what might fulfill such a role, given the state of governments these days). Perhaps the money that went into making and distributing Snowden may have been better spent spreading the word, and distribution, of Citizen Four. But then again, who’d have made serious money from that? Not Gordon-Levitt, nor Stone, nor Woodley, nor the countless studios involved in production, and on and on and on…

Life After Television @aaronsw #citizenfour – another collection of personal musings whilst conducting research of the #davidfosterwallace archive at the Harry Ransom Center, UT, Austin, TX (Day Nine)

I’ve been wanting to read, or at least take a look at George Gilder’s book, Life After Television, for a while now. The reason being its inclusion in ‘E Unibus Pluram,’ DFW’s now infamous essay on television and U.S. fiction. LAT is a strange book, part proclamation on future technologies and part advertisement for Fed-Ex (and part anti-Japan rhetoric, oddly), with lots of pictures of Fed-Ex drivers, amongst other stuff, delivering packages in romanticised locations; my favourite being a shot of a Fed-Ex van crossing a bridge in Bruges at 9:23am, taken with the sort of filter that leaves the picture looking like it’s been steeped in milky coffee to give it a warm glow.

 watching_tvdonsnooki A-supposedly-fun-thing-first-edition-cover

Anyhoo, my comment here comes from Gilder’s assertion on p.31 that [Sic]:

The force of microelectronics will blow apart all the monopolies, hierarchies, pyramids, and power grids of established industrial society. It will undermine all totalitarian regimes. Police states cannot endure under the advance of the computer because it increases the powers of the people far faster than the powers of surveillance. All hierarchies will tend to become “heterarchies” – systems in which each individual rules his own domain. In contrast to a hierarchy ruled from the top, a heterarchy is a society of equals under the law.


To wit, DFW leaves a comment in the margins: “And how will law be enforced, you smug prick?” (that made me giggle a bit).

It does make you wonder if the future democracies that seem to have been promised as a by-product of the advent of technological advancement have floundered somewhat. Do we feel that our powers are greater than that of the surveillance society? Do we see an end to totalitarian regimes? Two recent documentaries speak to these questions, but I’m afraid the answers they provide are not all that optimistic.

The first, The Internet’s Own Boy, tells of Aaron Swartz’s (@aaronsw) story. It is almost too sad a tale to be true, but unfortunately it is true, and a young, gifted individual now lies dead while those people who did little to avoid his death, and did much to accelerate it, go about their lives with hardly a care, it would seem.

The second, Citizen Four (#citizenfour), is almost too dark to be true. Whether what Edward Snowden says about the information he has in his possession is true or not, there is a sense, like the sense you get from watching The Internet’s Own Boy, that the ‘freedom of information’ that the Western world prides itself on is not all that free after all.

And here we have pause to consider DFW’s comment and to think, in light of seemingly endless revelations of wrong-doings by institutions that are meant to represent ‘the people’ (by the people; for the people), just how will the law be enforced as we move further along with technologies that are meant to provide us with unseen levels of personal freedom?

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