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<nettime> Operational Media
Jordan Crandall on Tue, 11 Jan 2005 11:31:29 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Operational Media

Jordan Crandall

Over the past several decades, in computationally-driven cultures, we hav 
e witnessed the emergence of increasingly networked and automated 
apparatuses of engagement that are used for security, combat, and 
navigation.  These are strategic applications that facilitate distributed 
fields of intelligence and agency.  We might recognize them at work when 
we see calculations and computer graphical overlays on screen-based 
representations of events, or luminous portable information scrims that 
hover between viewer and world.

Integrated into all manner of strategic informational displays -- whether 
used for entertainment, communication, or locationing, by the military, 
policing, or civilian sectors -- these media have in turn been integrated 
into a contemporary regime of spectacle.  They are visible everywhere as 
part of a machine-aided process of disciplinary attentiveness, embodied i 
n practice, that is bound up within the demands of a new production and 
security regime.

The enabling premises of such "operational media" can be found in the 194 
0s WWII wartime sciences of operations research, game theory, and 
cybernetics. The ground was laid for its emergence in the 1950s, when the 
development of computing became allied with the communication, command, 
simulation, and control imperatives of the Cold War.  Its two primary 
forms -- the real time tracking interface and the distributed interactive 
simulation -- were shaped by technological demands and the 
symbolic-communicative practices of wartime production.  At the same time, 
such media has helped shape new economies of organization, optimization, 
and vigilance.

As a conceptual and material apparatus of engagement, operational mediati 
on has always been about the detection and strategic codification of 
movement, and the development of maneuvers of strategic positionality. 
Against many of the orientations of virtual discourses over the last 
decade, which have often situated virtuality in terms of delocalization 
and disembodiment, its tradition is one of precise locational and temporal 
specificity. In this sense, operational media can be thought to serve as a 
*reaffirmation* of positionality and place.  It plays an important role in 
the resurgence of temporal and locational specificity witnessed in new 
surveillance and location-aware navigational technologies.

Historically, operational mediation has always been dependent on the form 
al modeling of closed systems and the development of highly sophisticated 
scenario planning techniques, which are privileged at the expense of 
situated, experiential knowledge.  It has always been oriented toward an 
ideal of integrated control and panoptic oversight, where external realit 
y is seen as manageable through the application of abstracted calculations 
and strategies.  In this sense it is inherently protective and agonistic, 
coalescing against a field of potential threat, whether scripted in terms 
of danger or inefficiency.

Yet, at the same time, the operational assemblage is fundamentally about 
*acquisition.* Propelled by a libidinous, suspicious, and supervisory ga 
ze, its objects are those which are to be managed or owned.  It is fueled 
by the demands of efficiency and vigilance, moving toward real time 
engagements and continuous, heightened states of alertness and 
preparedness, whether for protection or libidinous consumption.  It is not 
only driven by security and productivity, but of convenient access to 
desired objects.  As a technological-semiotic support, it blends combat 
and commodity, functioning as a link between war and consumerism.

This essay is about a unique modality of the spectacle that has emerged in 
this era of new security machines and mobile apparatuses of engagement.

Orientations of Integration and Control[1]

Out of his studies in feedback mechanisms, communication technology, and 
nonlinear processes, Norbert Weiner coined cybernetics in 1947 to designa 
te a new science of control mechanisms that relied on the exchange of 
information.  These were fundamentally mechanisms of control rather than 
simply those of exploration:  for Weiner, power and control were absolute 
ly central to the very foundation of the practice.  However, this was not 
a centralized form of control, nor a static one.  Objects were seen as 
flexible, self-regulating control-communication systems that were able to 
correct, in the course of their functioning, both their performance and t 
he rules governing their performance.  The object regulated and controlled 
itself based on feedback from the system.  It was a machine that could 

Weiner's anti-aircraft predictor was an example of such a device.  It was 
developed to determine, several seconds in advance, where an enemy aircra 
ft would be and to use that information to direct artillery fire. 
Today's self-regulating weapon is its descendant.

In cybernetics, both ally and enemy were so merged with their technology 
that the distinctions between human and machine were blurred.  Soldier, 
airplane, calculator, and firepower were merged into a single integrated 
system.  However, ally and enemy were not part of the same system but wer 
e fundamentally two different feedback mechanisms in opposition.  In this 
sense cybernetics (as well as operations analysis) was always dealing wit 
h a world of confrontations and oppositional tactics.  The enemy was a 
probabilistic system that could be countered using cybernetic tools and 
methods, which involved statistical methods and fast, mechanized computin 
g methods to solve these statistical problems.  It was a fundamentally 
agonistic calculus of tactical moves and countermoves.[2]

This agonistic calculus involved the construction of strategies, systems, 
and weapons that tie humans and technologies together through flows of 
information and issues of symbolic processing, positioning the body and m 
ind in terms of an integrated, information processing system. It gradually 
became the prototype for a new understanding of the human-machine relatio 
n. Within the context of industrial wartime, it was elevated into a 
general philosophy of human action.

Cybernetics was a circuit-reductionist model where behavior was always 
understood as purposeful and intentional.  Both ally and enemy were 
fundamentally rational and calculating entities that played on a mechaniz 
ed battlefield, well-versed in strategy, tactics, and maneuver. Humans and 
objects could only be known in terms of their observable functions. 
Under the gaze of such inquiry, human intentionality was the same as the 
self-regulation of machines.[3] That which was exhibited in the human 
realm but was not observable or operationally useful in science (such as 
non-purposeful behavior) was neglected.  In this "black-box" conception o 
f human nature, where behavior is defined in terms of broad classes of 
actions based on input and output, there is no way of dealing with the 
full depth and complexity of human interaction.  Human behavior is reduced 
to moves of pursuit, escape, and deception.  An abstract level of pattern 
is emphasized over a uniquely embodied particularity.

As clusters of tools, procedures, and metaphors, technologies configure a 
platform for discourse and ideology.  Such a technical-discursive ensembl 
e is modifiable through politics, yet it has political orientations built 
into its system.  It is not only the technology and its use, in other 
words, but the assumptions and orientations that come bundled with it.[4] 
To what extent is this essential confrontational and agonist nature of 
cybernetics and its circuit-reductionist models of behavior, "hardwired" 
into its descendants today? In cybernetic control theory, control systems 
beget other control systems.  As Katherine Hayles points out, "envisioning 
different kinds of exchanges demanded different kinds of control 
mechanisms, and constructing new control mechanisms facilitated the 
construction of more exchanges in that mode."[5] To what extent have its 
enabling premises replicated?

One could ask the same questions of computing in general.  Cybernetics an 
d its companion wartime sciences were themselves driven by the systematic, 
logical rules of computing, where it is understood that everything --=20 
warfare, ground realities, markets -- can be formalized, modeled, and 
managed.  Reality is figured as mathematical and "capturable" through a 
formal programming logic.  It can be thought to have contributed to an 
experience of the world as a predictable, manipulable entity, leading to a 
sense of dominance over the future.[6]

One could suggest three intersecting areas, descending from cybernetics a 
nd its companion wartime sciences, that are bundled into operational media 
from the start.  First, the perpetuation of an idealist orientation where 
humans have no access to unmediated reality and the world is actively 
constructed in terms of relational information systems.  Here the world is 
scripted as inherently controllable, filtered through a scrim of 
information that modifies both system and materiality.  Second, following 
from the first, is an emphasis on data patterns over essence: an 
ever-greater abstraction of persons, bodies, and things, and an emphasis 
on statistical patterns of behavior, where the populace is pictured as a 
calculus of probability distributions and manageable functions.  Third, a 
fundamentally agonistic orientation, deriving from a world built on 
confrontation and oppositional tactics, of tactical moves and 

Such pathways are dimensions of media development, whether militaristic or 
not.  They flow into the worlds of science, marketing, and videogaming, 
for example. A sense of mastery is generated through the contemporary 
popular media, where the spectator is infused with an artificial sense of 
control over the machine and an exterior world represented on the screen. 
Within the perfect world of the operational system, reality is subsumed 
within the dictates of the interface.  An unruly or unproductive situation 
is dominated, over and through the technology, and a de facto power 
relation is established between observer and observed.

This tradition has been motivated by, and participated in the construction 
of, an imagined enclosure of global panoptic oversight -- a "full spectrum 
dominance."[7] In 1997, the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force predicted 
that by the year 2000, "we shall be capable of finding, tracking, and 
targeting virtually in real time any significant element moving on the 
face of the earth."[8] The operational impulse is about acquiring a 
position of mastery through an omniscient distribution of the gaze:  a 
controlling gaze that is everywhere yet nowhere, and which acquires power 
solely because of this amorphousness.

Moving through a world of information and communications technology, 
information is increasingly seen as more essential that than which it 
represents.  Pattern is privileged over presence.[9]

The Real Time Tracking Interface

The twentieth century was driven by the race to eliminate time delays of 
all sorts -- between actions and displayed results; between the time of 
traveling between distant points; between sent messages and received 
responses; between observation and engagement.  One could see the entire 
history of both military development and industrial production as having 
been driven, in one way or another, by the need for advance detection and 
knowledge-action-time.  It was driven by the sense that only advanced 
technological systems are capable of dealing accurately and consistently 
with the calculations and extremely complex demands of battle situations 
--=20 particularly within potentially devastating warfare scenarios, when 
there is thought to be no time for human intervention and error.

The real time interface coalesced out of the demands of war and 
production. As Lev Manovich points out, it was radar that offered the mass 
employment of this fundamentally new type of screen -- the screen of "real 
time" -- which will gradually come to dominate modern visual culture.[10] 
Radar was the first real time tracking technology.  Much of its 
development occurred in the early 1940s during the War, due to its rapid 
abilities at gathering volumes of information.  It generated so much 
information that crews had to reorganize and accelerate their way of 
working in order to keep up with its pace.  The real time interface, then, 
brought with it demands for its acclimation, generating new patterns of 
organization, attentivity, and action.

The first large-scale, computerized command, control, and communications 
system was SAGE, established in the mid-1950s.  It was created to link 
together radar installations around the perimeter of the U.S., analyze and 
interpret their signals, and direct intercepting jets toward incoming 
objects.  As Paul Edwards shows, SAGE unleashed a wave of command-control 
projects from the late 1950s onwards, which eventually formed the core of 
a worldwide satellite, sensor, and communications web geared for global 
oversight and instantaneous military response.[11] It is within this web 
that the forms and ideologies of tracking arose -- as well as working 
methodologies and rhythms, forms of interface and engagement.  It is 
within this "total system," intertwined with the cybernetic tradition of 
integration, that operational media began to coalesce, along with the 
forms of organization and attention that were appropriate to it.  It was 
coincident with, and driven by, logics of production, self-optimization, 
and vigilance.

Consider a contemporary example.  A soldier on the ground in Iraq 
calculates coordinates for a strike using laser binoculars and a GPS 
device.  He transmits them via satellite to the Joint Operations Center in 
Qatar. Command personnel in Qatar check the information against digital 
maps made from satellite photographs, determine the coordinates for the 
strike, and then relay the coordinates via communications satellite to the 
pilot of a B-2, into whose missile guidance system they are fed.  The 
launched missile is corrected in flight by a GPS satellite.

Plans are currently underway for the development of a "Global Information 
Grid" -- a secure, wireless network that will fuse US military and 
intelligence services into one unified system, making volumes of 
information available instantly to all military and intelligence actors. 
Proponents say that it will become the most lethal weapon in the US 
arsenal and change the military and warfare the way that the Internet 
changed business and culture. The consortium established to build the "war 
net" includes a who's who of military contractors and technology 
innovators: Boeing, Cisco Systems, General Dynamics, Hewlett-Packard, 
Honeywell, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Northrup Grumman, Oracle, 
Raytheon, and Sun Microsystems. According to the chief executive of 
Lockheed Martin, this system will allow every member of the military to 
have "a God's eye view" of the battlefield.[12]

According to Virilio, the real time interface has replaced the interval 
that once constituted and organized the history and geography of human 
societies. Problems of spatial distance have been supplanted with problems 
of the time remaining.[13] One could say, then, that operational media is 
motored by the need for an instantaneity of action, where time delays, 
spatial distances, and "middlemen" are reduced through computational 
systems that facilitate the sharing of human and machinic functions.  One 
can see the emergence of "unmanned" vehicles in this light, especially 
those that are armed: they are constructs that are shaped, in system and 
in material form, by the drive to collapse the distance between sensor, 
analyst, and shooter, through various systemic adjustments and 

A new form of agency emerges within this coordination and command network, 
spanning spatial distance and merging information from multiple sources. 
A combinatory field of perception arises within a distributed field of 
shared functions.

This intertwining of human and machinic capacity, in the generation of a 
combinatory field of perception, is part of the historical development of 
media itself.  In cinema, the spectator and the cinematic apparatus are 
mutually dependent in the act of conducting representation. One must be 
trained to behave and see in accordance with the conditions of the device. 
The viewer is immobilized and sensitized to a language of movement through 
which an extensive world is understood.  The human becomes reliant upon 
the apparatus that populates its field of vision, adjusting to the 
rhythmic codes of its conveyance, as the apparatus is reliant upon the 
sensorium of the viewer for its actualization.  A perceptual capacity and 
a signifying apparatus emerge through an integration of human and 

We can say that, in a spectatorial situation, a subject is "distributed" 
within a field of engagement determined through technological systems of 
communication, storage, sorting, and retrieval, contoured under the social 
and institutional construction of knowledge.  A viewing subject is linked 
or inserted into larger networks of seeing and linguistic meaning, and a 
decentered or multi-nodal self emerges. It is accompanied by experiences 
of disembodiment and incipient presence; experiences of mobility and 
translocality; experiences of prosthetic extension and liberation through 
machines.  One can regard the history of popular media in terms of such 
technologized perception and presence.

As Ryan Bishop and John Phillips write, the integrative history of 
military technology -- a history of prosthetic extension, especially that 
of sight -- has been paralleled by the rise of mass media and its 
manipulation of vision to create illusions of simultaneity, movement, and 
depth.  Each has produced instruments designed to collapse distance and 
time, aiming to close the gap between the perceiving subject and the 
visible world.  The "problem" proposed by the gap of perception is solved 
by a return to a mythologized time of unproblematic perception.[15] But 
the fundamental problem remains.

These histories are intertwined with that of automation, but they connect 
to a still larger migration of cognition.  By the 1960s, for example, 
television was already on its way to becoming, as it has today, a machine 
for the automation of thinking. Reflecting the viewer's own thought 
process, it develops its own conventions of simulated deliberation, 
absolving the viewer of the labor of decision-making [16] -- as when a 
laugh track allows one to maintain a relaxed composure while the machine 
assumes the labor of chuckling.  At the extreme end is the figure of the 
"couch potato", whose body is hollowed out by the apparatus as the 
televisual "smart image" assumes control.

Consider a recent news broadcast.  A pilot is flying an aircraft during a 
combat situation in Iraq.  It is flown jointly, by an operator in the 
cockpit as well as by operators on the ground.  We are watching the scene 
as if through the cockpit window.  Computer calculations are arrayed on 
the image-field.  We see through the pilot's eye, but we also see through 
the viewpoint of the larger command network in which the pilot is 
embedded.  The pilot is one actor within a distributed agency that 
combines humans and machines.  Our viewpoint is momentary converged with 
that of the piloting agency. The clip ends, and a zoom out frames the 
image within a newsroom stage.  A news anchor appears.  She meets our gaze 
and addresses us in terms of a collective "we."  We are placed in 
position, momentarily aligned with this combinatory operator, sharing its 
perspective, hailed as subjects within its operational world.

For both the military and the civilian observer, there is no "time" for 
reflection.  In the military realm, reflection adds time and space in 
which the target might slip away.  It expands, not lessens, the gap 
between detecting and intervening, sensing and shooting.  In the popular 
realm, slowness -- the stuff of reflection and deliberation -- is to be 
avoided, instantaneity prized.  American media culture is one of 
impatience and immediacy.  Reflection is distributed and automated -- or 
as some would say, evacuated.  We are however talking about a symbiotic 
relationship: both subject and object are mutually intertwined within the 
combinatory human-machinic realm.

The Distributed Interactive Simulation[17]

Already in the 1950s, researchers were using the technology developed for 
SAGE to create computer graphics programs that allowed direct input by 
touching the screen.  The most famous of these was "Sketchpad," designed 
in 1962 by Ivan Sutherland.  It was at this point that the real time 
screen became interactive.[18] Simulated three-dimensional worlds were 
subsequently developed in which users could "virtually" embody themselves, 
whether via a stationary screen or a movable head-mounted display.

Sutherland founded the first computer science program to focus on graphics 
and graphical interfaces in 1965.  There were three standards that he set 
for this work.  First, the display screen was to be considered a window, 
through which the user looks into a computer-modeled universe.  This 
virtual world was to become so realistic that it would eventually become 
indistinguishable from a real world.  Second, other sensory modalities 
should be included so that users find themselves fully present in a 
virtual world through sound, touch, and realistic sensations of embodied 
movement. Third, abstract representations should be able to be 
superimposed on an object, as in cartography, where information overlays a 
realistic depiction.[19]

Right from the beginning, industry played a large role in the development 
of interactive computer graphics.  The entertainment industry, along with 
the military, has been a major stimulus to its development.  If there is a 
"military-industrial-entertainment" complex to be theorized, it was 
already at work in the 1960s.  The desire for realism in computer 
graphical effects comes from a variety of sources, no less film, 
television, and fiction.  It is no secret that developers of both 
videogames and military flight simulators have been influenced by films 
like The Terminator and novels like Snow Crash.  It has been said that 
military funding has driven technological development, but it could also 
be said that it is the entertainment world that drives them both.  Or, 
more accurately, they are both driven by a cultural imaginary, which is a 
composite of multiple narratives whether fact or fiction.

Abstract strategy games were always necessary in the history of warfare, 
providing important tools for testing operations and tactics.  During the 
Cold War, increasingly powerful modeling and prediction technologies were 
needed in order to reach into the future and anticipate events.  They were 
of vital importance since actual outcomes were too catastrophic to 
consider. Simulation was actively used in contrast to actual weapon 
technology that could not be used.

The 3-D simulation technologies developed before the 1980s were understood 
as stand-alone systems.  Since the advent of large-scale information and 
communications networks, interactive computer graphics have increasingly 
been integrated into networked "distributed interactive simulations." 
DARPA funding has been a major player in this work.  One of the largest 
distributed interactive simulations was the DARPA-sponsored SIMNET, which 
began to be developed in 1983 and went operational in 1990.  With such 
distributed battle-engagement simulations, virtual theaters of war are 
created that link multiple actors in real time.  With the rapid 
development of this technology during the 1990s, content and compelling 
narrative development have accelerated in their importance, leading to an 
emphasis on "back-story" and the development of databases of historically- 
and geographically-accurate data.

This drive for realism, compelling content, and back-story has come from 
both imagined and actual warfare scenarios.  In the summer of 1990, for 
example, a computer-based war game called Operation Internal Look was used 
by General Norman Schwarzkopf and his staff at the U.S. Central Military 
Command to run through scenarios of potential conflict in Iraq. 
Immediately after the invasion of Kuwait, the function of Internal Look 
changed from virtual to actual: it was now used to run variations of the 
real combat scenario.  Lessons from Internal Look subsequently shaped the 
defensive plan for Operation Desert Shield.  Schwarzkopf wrote in his 
memoirs that "the movements of Iraq's real-world ground and air forces 
eerily paralleled the imaginary scenario of the game."[20] Actual 
intelligence reports were so similar to game dispatches that the fictional 
reports had to be stamped with a prominent disclaimer: "Exercise Only."

The flow between simulation and actuality also moves in the other 
direction. In the drive for realism, back-story, and historical accuracy, 
actual battle scenarios are subsequently virtualized -- in other words, 
they are recreated for use in simulations.  A case in point is the "Battle 
of 73 Easting" between the U.S. and Iraqi forces, which took place in the 
Iraqi desert on 26 February 1991, just three days into the ground war. 
On month after the battle, work on gathering data for the simulation had 
already begun.  The battle was essentially re-staged:  troops (many of 
whom fought in the actual battle) reconstructed the action 
moment-by-moment, vehicle-by-vehicle. Diaries, written logs, and personal 
tape recordings were used to introduce subjective experiences -- the fears 
and emotions of the soldiers as well as their actions.  Tracks in the sand 
gave precise traces of movement.[21]

Flowing back and forth across imagined and actual warfare scenarios, the 
drive for compelling narrative development in simulations influences 
popular news and entertainment programming. In terms of ideas, personnel, 
and products, there is already a continuous flow back and forth across the 
military and news-entertainment realms.  Military planners now work 
closely with industrial partners in team fashion, and in the process, 
military contracting units have become business organizations.  Through 
increasing alliances with the entertainment industry, research work for 
high-end military products can be seamlessly integrated with systems in 
the commercial sector.[22]

The Department of Defense has been the major source of long-term funding 
for high-end computer graphics, visualization technologies, and network 
infrastructure for over 30 years.  Yet since the early 1990s, following 
the end of the Cold War, the DOD has increased its reliance upon the 
acquisition of commercially-available items and components, many of which 
have already been developed in the videogame industry.  Since then a 
deeper collaboration has set in among the military, commercial designers, 
the entertainment industry, and academic researchers.  The mandate of 
STRICOM (Simulation Training and Instrumentation Command) -- the 
organization that was founded in order to manage and direct the military's 
simulation efforts -- is to leverage non-military industry resources.

The military now develops its own commercial games designed as recruitment 
devices. A new gaming genre called "serious games" has arisen to fill the 
gap between entertainment, training, and public relations.  Including such 
games as America's Army: Operations, released in 2002, and USAF: Air 
Dominance, in 2004[23], so-called serious games are government-funded 
promotional products, developed in the commercial sector, that are 
intended to be used as promotional vehicles, recruitment tools, and 
educational experiences.

Military simulations are adapted to the commercial game market as 
commercial videogames are adapted for military purposes -- as the 
videogame industry on the whole is in ascendance. It is now the commercial 
videogame market that drives the development of graphics and processor 
hardware.  The game industry is reaching (or has already reached) the 
level of film and television in its importance as a popular entertainment 
medium in much of the developed world.  One could suggest that film and 
television are fast on their way to becoming special cases of a much 
larger simulative field.[24] It is urgent, then, to understand the extent 
to which the content of news media is driven by the demands of simulation.

Since 1980, the two-cycle (AM/PM) basis for news delivery has been 
gradually replaced by a relentless 24-hour news delivery cycle that seldom 
looks back. It is a profit center that demands new and constant dangers 
for reportage and commodification.  It fuels a constant battle for 
attention-space, where the whole of reality is transformed into a dramatic 
stage for alluring catastrophe.  Here there is no time to remember, 
because the next crisis -- always imminent -- demands our full vigilance. 
Battle simulations, television shows, and interactive games inhabit a 
mutually-reinforcing system of marketable threats and protections.  There 
is nothing outside of this system, and especially as it is increasingly 
able to tap into the affective dimension, where danger is eroticized.

As simulations flow back and forth across the commercial sector, in 
various combinations of serious use, entertainment, recruitment, 
promotion, and proprietary engagement, perhaps "simulation" is becoming 
less a modality of representation than a mechanism of translation -- or at 
least, a form of incipience or potentiality, moving across various stages 
of enaction.  In new training scenarios, live units are connected to 
simulation units, allowing a switching back and forth between virtual and 
real situations -- a process that will have analogues in the civilian 
realm.  We are here in t= he territory of what John Armitage, after 
Virilio, calls the "logistics of perception management"[25] -- the realm 
of spin and "reality control," where facts, interpretations, and events 
are mutually shaped to conform to strategic doctrines; where reality is 
positioned as something that is inherently pliable; and where the public 
becomes a surface for the production of effects.

The issue is not simulation per se, but the larger historical 
transformation of the spectacle, in which the processes and forms of 
simulation have played a role.

A Mobilized and Vigilant Perception

The logics and forms of the real time tracking interface and the 
distributed interactive simulation -- as these are shaped under the 
demands of warfare and production -- have been integrated into all manner 
of graphic displays, whether used for entertainment, communication, or 
locationing, by the military, policing, and civilian sectors.  They have 
been integrated into new regimes of entertainment and spectacle.

Fundamental contradictions remain.  Brian Holmes embodies these 
contradictions in his figure of the "flexible personality":  the 
contemporary individual embedded in a network culture that is a synthesis 
of, on the one hand, a communicative opportunism, bringing labor and 
leisure together in a dream of disalienation that stretches back to the 
1960s; and on the other hand, an underlying architecture of surveillance 
and control, made possible by the spread of new technologies.[26] With the 
seemingly boundless opportunity, safety, and convenience that comes with 
these new technologies, their user is increasingly able to targeted and 
managed within new control regimes -- a mobile focal point of a 
distributed Panopticon.

As Foucault[27] and others have shown, we internalize the condition of 
surveillance.  It enters into the logic of perception, directed at 
ourselves or at others. We are both origin and object: the one who tracks 
and who keeps track.  These conduits are not particular to the domain of 
policing, for they not only compel a watchfulness of the state, but a 
civilian watchfulness, where a suspicious or concerned eye is cast upon 
one's self and one's fellow citizens.

Think of the way that one is compelled to assume a position of extreme 
vigilance -- to "track" or scan rather than simply see -- in the reporting 
of "suspicious activity" at an airport. Looking for such "suspicious 
activity," I suddenly realize the most insidious part of the drill:  What 
about *me*?  With this realization, I am transformed.  I am the person at 
Sartre's keyhole, caught in the act, who knows that he is seen at the 
moment that he sees.  I have now become an object for the gaze of another. 
Looked at, I look at myself.  Concerned that I could be "suspect," I 
modify my actions accordingly.

In media-saturated societies, surveillance has gradually been made
  "friendly" and transformed into spectacle, to the extent that it is no 
longer a condition to be feared.  Rather, it is a condition to be courted: 
witness the phenomena of reality television, blogs, and webcams, and the 
rise of the media mise-en-scene as the primary form of social 
authentication.[28] In recent cyber discourses, this "friendly" control is 
often regarded as self-regulating: we are integral part of systems that 
self-adjust through market dynamics or adaptive behaviors, allowing for 
the emergence of new forms of maneuver and masquerade.  Within new 
ecologies of mind[29], we benefit from machine-human interactions all 
around us, a pervasive web of shared resources that offers boundless 
opportunity for identity refashioning.  Further:  in a database-driven 
culture of accounting, one needs to appear on the matrices of registration 
in order to "count."  To be accounted for is to exist.

Perhaps nowhere have the contradictions of communicative 
opportunism/surveillant precision made more palpable than in new portable 
wireless devices, especially those that are increasingly "location-aware." 
These technologies, along with their semiotics and uses, are serving to 
weave together degrees of temporal and spatial specificity, against the 
grain of much of the "delocalized" orientation of virtual discourses 
during the last decade -- but perhaps more true to the strategic origins 
of the cybernetic tradition, which was, after all, concerned with the 
precise calculation of position.

"Locative" technologies rely on connection to the global positioning 
system (GPS), launched by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1994.  A 
constellation of 24 satellites that circle the globe, the system works 
through radio signals sent from satellite transmitters to ground-based 
receivers, through which precise positions on the earth are determined. 
The system is continually fine-tuned by US Air Force monitoring stations 
across the world. GPS capability can now be integrated into a device as 
small as a wristwatch. When your navigational device has access to a 
geographic information system (GIS), content items that respond to your 
location can be retrieved.  Such technologies blend the tradition of 
interactive computer graphics, tracking interfaces, and handheld 
communications devices.  The technology is already visible in new on-board 
automobile navigation systems such as ATX and OnStar, who can even operate 
some of your car's functions remotely (including turning on the speaker 
phone to eavesdrop).  Currently about a quarter of all vehicles at U.S. 
car rental agencies use some form of GPS technology.  And of course, it is 
already beginning to sweep through the mobile phone market:  By the end of 
the year, the FCC is requiring all U.S. mobile phone providers to be able 
to pinpoint the exact location of all customers who call 911, and most of 
these companies are already beginning to roll out GPS-equipped phones in 
order to be the first to offer new positioning features.[30] In the 
tradition of heads-up displays, various kinds of visual and sensory 
augmentation will also be possible through new devices that overlay 
information and graphics on objects and spaces directly in the user's line 
of vision.

Tiny transponders or RFID (radio frequency identification) tags -- which 
can be embedded in just about anything, including humans -- allow precise 
locationing of objects within flexible production and distribution 
systems. They are what allow customers to precisely track the trajectory 
of their Federal Express package. Gillette has already embedded them in 
cheap disposable razors, and retailers such as Wal-Mart are requiring all 
of their suppliers to embed these RF tags in their shipments for decoding. 
A recent ad for IBM On Demand Business reads: "Tens of thousands of parts, 
all perfectly choreographed. Every single day, an integrated wireless 
tracking system helps Audi plants respond in real time to shifts in global 
demand." [31] The military was of course an early pioneer of RFID.

The potential of GPS-enabled devices, ubiquitous transponders, and other 
locationing technologies present a world where every object and human is 
tagged with information specifications including history and position -- a 
world of information overlays that is no longer virtual but wedded to 
objects, places, and positions, and no longer fully simulative since it 
facilitates an active trafficking between model and reality.  Such 
location-specific technology combines information, movement, and precise 
positioning -- knowing "where" as well as "what."

These technologies and their discourses aim to increase productivity, 
agility, and awareness, yet they vastly increase the tracking capabilities 
of marketing and management regimes. You are able to get what you want 
faster, but your behavior is tracked and analyzed by marketers who also 
can provide this information to police and military sources, who 
increasingly depend upon the business sector for a large part of their 
intelligence. (After the carnage of the Civil War, the U.S. military was 
prohibited from future interventions into the domestic realm.  Since most 
of the spy satellites are owned by the military, the military "outsources" 
some of its domestic intelligence needs to commercial satellite providers, 
while relying on data gathered through the private sector on a number of 
fronts, especially to meet the sudden growth in intelligence demands after 
9/11.) Information from buying habits, travel locations, and audience 
demographics can be integrated into one comprehensive system, which aims 
to target consumers at the one-to-one level, offering 
individually-tailored enticements.  Tracked, the user becomes a target 
within the operational interfaces of the marketing worlds, into whose 
technologies state surveillance is outsourced.

The paradigm is already in place in new regimes of production, which aim 
to narrow the intervals between conception, manufacturing, distribution, 
and consumption.  Aiming toward instantaneity in shopping and 
media-entertainment development, they shrink the delays between detecting 
an audience pattern and formatting a new enticement that can address it.

Such technologies arise out of, and facilitate, maneuvers of strategic 
positionality -- maneuvers that derive from the tradition of operational 
media.  With such impulses, one needs to account for a moving self or 
object in the most precise terms as to assert control over it, to manage 
it, lest it become unruly, unproductive, unsafe, or inconvenient.  It is 
to assert power, whether over ourselves or others:  it is to endeavor to 
know more than the other; to put the other in a position of subservience; 
to have the "edge" over the other or the self (self-discipline). 
Propelled by a libidinous, suspicious, and supervisory gaze, the object is 
that which is to be managed or owned.  It involves escalating time 
pressures contoured under an economy of desire and vigilance, moving 
toward a reduction of the intervals between detection and engagement, or 
desire and its attainment.

This form of operationally-driven form of mobilized and vigilant 
perception -- which we can refer to as *tracking* -- reifies what Virilio 
calls the "being of the path."  It is a pathway that is wholly identified 
with the subject and the object in motion.[32] However, unlike Virilio's 
emphasis on its lack of referentiality, this tracking-path is filled with 
signification:  it serves to invest movement with meaning, as both a 
surface of action-inscription and an activity of action-inscription.  It 
offers a semiotics that engages with continuity, understanding a moving 
object not as fixed but in formation --an "inform" on its way to 
coalescing as a determinate thing, and which exists in a dynamic between 
passage and construction.[33]

Yet at the same time that tracking is occupied with movement and its 
quantification, it is occupied with precise categorical location -- a 
precise positionality on a geo-temporal-identificatory grid.  The 
viewer-consumer is targeted within a demographic or marketing database. 
The tracked object is placed on a geographical grid, a temporal grid, or 
an identity matrix -- one or another classification scheme or 
database-driven identity assessment.  Following Foucault, these logics 
coalesce into regulatory mechanisms.  They carry with them a way of 
modulating and constructing discourses that define a field of objects and 
a subject adequate to know them.  They help form a model for thought and 
identification and provide a source of new concepts and metaphors.  They 
constitute a form of self-reference, or self-medialization, which is 
defined in response to a desired and feared Other. Internalizing such 
logics of classification, the tracking/tracked subject replaces a 
subjective evaluation with an economic or threat index, for example, or 
reifies positionality in order to conform to access demands.  It is a 
calculus of ontological division.

While tracking is fundamentally about the detection and strategic 
codification of movement, then, it at the same time serves as a 
reaffirmation of positionality and place.  It is about a semiotics of 
mobility, yet is also a fundamental reassertion of temporal and locational 

Tracking leads to the "arrest" of its object in a matrix of signification 
-- a process we know in terms of *targeting.* Through the 
post-perspectival guidelines of the operational interface, the suspicious 
and acquisitive gaze fixes its sights on its object-target, toward the 
goal of its elimination or consumption.

Such a process involves three fundamental needs: security, productivity, 
and convenient access to commodity.  In this way surveillance, efficacy, 
and consumerism are blended.  Networks of pleasure and paranoia are 
harnessed in order to produce an awareness of *endangered enticement* and 
move a subject to action - that is, to consume material, virtual, or 
discursive objects, whether positioned in terms of security or libidinous 
satisfaction.  In the relatively wealthy regions of the world, citizens 
are compelled to believe in a cause (democracy) and dedicate themselves to 
a "way of life" (shopping).  The expression "defending our way of life" 
embodies the twin engines of desire and fear, attraction and protection. 
This means defending the right to acquire as the very means of "freedom of 
mobility."  It means defending the right to own and circulate objects, and 
to constitute oneself as an object to be marketed.  Through an 
interlocking mechanism of selling and consuming, looking and buying, one 
grazes along endless arrays of enticements offered up for the desirous and 
acquiring eye -- enticements that are aimed at the replication of desire 
in the eyes of others. Such a mechanism becomes the very condition of 
mobility.  It is a process of defining the self in terms of an unbounded 
menagerie of attractions, which leaves it forever lacking.

We can say that whenever there is surveillance, there is shopping, and 
vice-versa: the consumer polices and the policer desires. 
Conquer/consume/protect, desire/fire:  the operational gaze is a complex 
of offensive and defensive contradictions.  Mon desir est la sur quoi je 

In the end, the workings of operational mediation -- borne of a formal 
programming logic, of the primacy of pattern over presence, and of the 
agonistic calculus of tactics and maneuver -- cannot be understood by 
formal linguistic meanings alone.  It calls for us to recognize a 
dimension of *affect*:  an axis of intensity that underlies the symbolic 
register, continually confounding politics of representation.  To attempt 
to accommodate this dimension is to enter the domain of contradictions, 
where violence can be both horrific and pleasurable, and where 
surveillance can be voyeurism.  It is the realm where one secretly thrills 
to the potential spectacle of crime, and where danger is not only avoided 
but also secretly courted.  It is the realm of the disaster imaginary and 
the criminal unconscious, played out in the "adventure factor" in military 
recruitment advertisements, immersive games, and extreme sports.  It is 
the "morbid curiosity" we feel when, present in the aftermath of a violent 
act, we have to look, but we don't want to see.  It requires the 
acknowledgement of danger as a constitutive element of attraction:  the 
unpredictable, dangerous web of intrigue that pulls us into the narrative 

At the extreme case, we are in the dimension of the Lacanian Real: the 
hidden fantasmatic underside of our sense of reality, which cannot be 
assimilated into the symbolic order of language or into the domain of 
shared images.  It provides the fundamental support of reality, yet it 
cannot be incorporated into it.  It is the jouissance felt in the 
catastrophe and in the construction of the sublime object, or the 
impossible-real object of desire.[35]

In addition to the meaning of a phenomenon, one must endeavor to account 
for its *motivating power.* Meaning is often pressed into service of an 
even more fundamental intensity of belief.  Intensities will always trump 
semantics -- they will mold meanings to their own ends.  Although this 
dimension of intensity and affective engagement is not representational, 
it is, following Deleuze, "gradated" by representation.  The challenge is 
to develop a cultural vocabulary specific to it.[36]

Contoured under the aegis of impending danger and inefficiency, we are 
talking about a form of perception and codification that arises in the 
contemporary demand for increased vigilance -- but in such a way as to 
produce the vigilant perceiver as a site for the production of desire. It 
situates the body as a receptive site for new fears and attractions. 
Such "positioning" and simulation impulses are visible everywhere, as part 
of a machine-aided process of discliplinary attentiveness, embodied in 
practice, that is bound up within the demands of a new production and 
security regime.[37]

The challenge is not only to endeavor to understand this operational 
constru ct, but to understand the forms of opposition to it that are 
emerging in the globalized world.  For the operational is only one 
"window" onto reality. There are other orientations that counter it, and 
for which, by its very nature, it is unable to account.  It is powerless 
to envision terms of engagement that do not operate according to its 
logics.  It can only assign them to the realm of the barbaric or 
irrational: that which lies outside of its license on reason.[38]

The eruption of violence is one result of the lack of political process 
within which these alternative constructs can be heard.


This text is based on a paper delivered at the workshop "The City as 
Target" at the National University of Singapore in August of 2004.  I 
would like to thank my colleagues to whom this research is indebted: 
John Armitage, Ryan Bishop, Manuel De Landa, Paul N. Edwards, Peter 
Galison, N. Katherine Hayles, Thomas Y. Levin, Lev Manovich, Brian 
Massumi, and Peter Weibel. Special thanks to Arthur and Marilouise Kroker 
and the anonymous reviewers of my earlier draft.

Originally published on CTHEORY, Vol. 28, Nos. 1-2


1.  My discussion of cybernetics owes a large debt to N. Katherine Hayles 
and Peter Galison, whose work is essential on the subject.  See N. 
Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, 
Literature, and Informatics (University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 
84-112, and Peter Galison, "The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Weiner and 
the Cybernetic Vision," Critical Inquiry 21:1, Autumn 1994, pp. 228-266. 
See also Peter Galison, "War Against the Center," Grey Room 04, Summer 
2001, pp. 6-33.

2. Galison, "The Ontology of the Enemy," p. 233.

3.  Ibid, p. 246.

4.  I owe many of these insights to Paul N. Edwards and his brilliant 
study of the role that computing has played in the "closed world" 
orientation of the Cold War era and its aftermath.  Paul N. Edwards, The 
Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. 
(MIT Press, 1996).

5.  Hayles, p. 91.  Hayles points to James R. Beniger, in The Control 
Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society 
(Harvard University Press, 1986), who shows how technologies of speed and 
communication precipated a "crisis of control" that, once solved, 
initiated a new cycle of crisis.

6.  Edwards, p. 1-15.

7.  "Full Spectrum Dominance" is the key term in Joint Vision 2020, the 
blueprint the United States Department of Defense. See 

8.  General Fogelman, speaking to the House of Representatives, cited by 
Paul Virilio in Strategy of Deception (Verso, 2000), pp. 17-18, from an 
article by F. Filloux entitled "Le Pentagone la tete dans les etoiles" in 
Liberation, 20 April 1999.

9. Hayles, p. 19.

10. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (MIT Press, 2001), pp. 95-101.

11.  Edwards, pp. 75-111.

12. 15.  "A Network of Warfighters to Do Battle in 21st Century 
Conflicts," New York (AFP) Nov 13, 2004, from SpaceDaily.com, 15 Nov 2004. 
Thanks to Irving Goh for this forward.

13. Paul Virilio, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (Verso, 1997), pp. 10, 19, 

14. Sean Cubitt, The Cinema Effect (MIT Press, 2004).

15. Ryan Bishop and John Phillips, "Sighted Weapons and Modernist Opacity: 
Aesthetics, Poetics, Prosthetics," Boundary 2, 29:2, 2002, p. 158-9.

16.  Eliane Scarry "Watching and Authorizing the Gulf War" in Media 
Spectacles, Marjorie Garber, Jann Matlock, and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, eds. 
(Routledge, 1993), 57-73, as cited in Margaret Morse, Virtualities: 
Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture (Indiana University Press, 1998), 

17.  I owe a large debt to the extensive research of Tim Lenoir and Henry 
Lowood on the history of simulation technology and war gaming and the 
contemporary synergies between the military and the entertainment 
industry. Tim Lenoir, "All But War is Simulation: The 
Military-Entertainment Complex," Configurations, Fall 2000.  Tim Lenoir 
and Henry Lowood, "Theaters of War: The Military-Entertainment Complex" in 
Kunstkammer, Laboratorium, B=FChne--Schaupl=E4tze des Wissens im 17. 
Jahrhundert, eds. Jan Lazardzig, Helmar Schramm, and Ludger Schwarte. 
(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter Publishers, 2003): 432-64. An earlier, more 
expansive version of this essay is available at 

18. Manovich, pp. 101-102.

19. Lenoir and Lowood, op. cit.

20. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn't Take a Hero (Bantham, 1992).

21.  F. Clifton Berry, Jr., "Re-creating History: The Battle of 73 
Easting," National Defense, Nov. 1991, also discussed in Bruce Sterling, 
"War is Virtual Hell," Wired Vol. 1 No. 1, January 1993 and in Kevin 
Kelly, "God Games: Memorex Warfare," Out of Control (Addison Wesley, 
1994).  Cited in Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, "Theaters of War: The 
Military-Entertainment Complex," in Kunstkammer, Laboratorium, 
B=FChne--Schaupl=E4tze des Wissens im 17. Jahrhundert, eds. Jan Lazardzig, 
Helmar Schramm, and Ludger Schwarte. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 
Publishers, 2003): 432-64.  Also at 

22.  See DOD Directives 5000.1 and 5000.2, as cited by Lenoir and Lowood.

23. "Critical Mass Completes 'USAF: Air Dominance' Military Action Flight 
Simulator," Austin TX (SPX) Nov 12, 2004, from Space War Express, 12 Nov 
2004. Thanks to Irving Goh for this forward.

24.  This statement makes reference to Lev Manovich's statement that "Born 
from animation, cinema pushed animation to its periphery, only in the end 
to become a particular case of animation." Manovich, p. 302.

25.  John Armitage, "Beyond Postmodernism? Paul Virilio's Hypermodern 
Cultural Theory," in Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, eds., Life in the 
Wires: The CTHEORY Reader (CTHEORY Books, 2004), pp. 354-368.  Paul 
Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception, trans. Patrick 
Camiller (Verso, 1989).

26.  Brian Holmes, "Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and 
Imperialist Infrastructure," Springerin 3/04, www.springerin.at.  See his 
writing on "The Flexible Personality" in Brian Holmes, Hieroglyphs of the 
Future (Arkzin, 2002), pp. 106-145.

27.  Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan 
(Penguin, 1977), pp. 195-228.

28. See Peter Weibel, "Pleasure and the Panoptic Principle," and Ursula 
Frohne, "Screen Tests: Media Narcissism, Theatricality, and the 
Internalized Observer" in [CTRL]SPACE: Rhetorics of Surveillance from 
Bentham to Big Brother, Thomas Levin, Ursula Frohne, and Peter Weibel, 
eds. (MIT Press, 2002), pp. 215-219; 253-77.

29.  See Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, University of 
Chicago Press, 2000), p. 466.

30.  See William J. Mitchell, Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City 
(MIT Press, 2003), pp. 113-127, and Matthew Brzezinski, Fortress America 
(Bantam, 2004), p. 62-64.

31. As reproduced in Wired, Dec 2004, p. 43.  For explanations of RFID, 
see Mitchell, Me++, pp. 113-127, and Brzezinski, Fortress America (Bantam, 
2004), p. 78-81.  Applied Digital Solutions experiments with RF tags for 
humans and they are already injected into humans and animals.

32. Virilio, Open Sky, p. 130.

33.  Reading through Bergson and Deleuze, Brian Massumi offers important 
new theoretical tools for thinking movement today, at the intersection of 
cultural studies and science studies.  My thinking on tracking, as well as 
on the role of affect, owes a great debt to his work.  See Brian Massumi, 
Parables for the Virtual (Duke University Press, 2002).

34. "My desire is where I'm firing at." Guillaume Appollinaire, from 
"Desir" in "Lueurs des Tirs," Calligrammes, Paris, 1918, as quoted in 
Virilio, War and Cinema, p. 14-15.

35. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. 
Alan Sheridan (W. W. Norton, 1978).  Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert 
of the Real, (Verso, 2002).

36.  For an important call for a vocabulary of affect in cultural studies, 
see Brian Massumi, op. cit.  The work of Manuel DeLanda has also been 
exemplary in this regard.  See Under Fire.1: The Organization and 
Representation of Violence, ed. Jordan Crandall (Witte de With, 2004), p. 

37.  For considerations of disciplinary attentiveness in Modernity, the 
seminal work is Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, 
Spectacle, and Modern Culture (MIT Press, 1999).

38.  See Edward Said, Orientalism (Pantheon: 1978).

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