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<nettime> On Tracking
Jordan Crandall on Mon, 28 Nov 2005 22:54:02 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> On Tracking

and its landscapes of readiness

Jordan Crandall


THE SCENE: the hot zone of a busy airport concourse.  Late afternoon sun shining
through the atrium windows.  Travelers drifting about in a state of anxious
suspension. All around me, it is pure theater. The star of the show is an
impeccably dressed woman, hunched over her laptop, performing some sort of demo
for the man next to her, who seems to be only marginally interested.  She is
clicking away with forceful, jerky motions, causing the computer, which is perched
on her knees, to sway perilously. A pink Post-It, loosened from the momentum,
flutters to the ground.

Curious, I move in for a closer look.  She appears to be demonstrating some kind
of search technique. According to her, the technique is designed to "cut through
the clutter" and save time.  It allows her to move across the expanse of the web,
telescope in and out as necessary, and zero in on the EXACT bits and pieces that
she needs.  She emphasizes the word "EXACT," as if she's somehow able to tap into
some kind of original hookup between sign and thing.  As she says "EXACT," she
stomps her foot (WHOP!), the clap of her shoe precisely synching with her
enunciation. Impressive.  I try to sneak a peek at her screen, but I cannot figure
out what she is doing.  She is moving too quickly.  She is "flying" the computer
like a fighter pilot.

It's an aggressive technique.  I admire her extreme physical engagement wit h a
process that, for most of us, is rather immobilizing.  She's completely charged up
by it, as if she's found a way to seize control of the ship. After typing and
clicking furiously for several more minutes, she pauses fo r a moment and sits
back, as if to catch her breath (or rather, to refuel). She collects herself,
glances quickly at the man, and then grabs a pencil, preparing to make a point. 
She tells him that this search-and-target metho d is by far the most PRECISE.  She
elongates the word "PRE-CISSSE," drawing out the sound of the "sssss," as she
simultaneously thrusts the sharp end o f her pencil toward the computer screen. 
She seems to propel the pencil forward with the force of her enunciation, as if
the pencil were a missile hurling toward its target. As if the
precision-pencil-missile could punctur e the computer screen itself -- or rather,
the abstracting field of language -- to apprehend her "real" quarry.

I stare at an imagined point of impact on her screen.  Is there a "real" to be
captured here, concealed beneath the frames and words?  What is the real object of
the precision-impulse?  Of course, in its Lacanian sense, the rea l cannot be
assimilated into the symbolic order.  No matter: she will strive to capture it, as
quickly and efficiently as possible. It is a necessarily illusion: the engine
through which her physical activity is produced.

At this point, with nowhere else to go -- after all, if there were a real object
at the end of the precision-impulse, it would be vaporized as it was enacted --
she cuts to another device.  The abandoned pencil falls to the floor.  When one
runs-aground, what is there to do but to reach for a gadget?  She locks her gaze
onto her pocketbook, thrusts her hand inside, unearths a camera-phone, flips it
open, and snaps a picture of the man -- all in one motion. The man, dazed by her
quick draw, was no doubt captured in an unflattering image, like the unprepared,
hapless victim in a slasher flick who, mouth agape, is instantaneously
immortalized by both camera and killer.

I consider that the precision-woman is showing off her technological prowes s for
the elusive man.  As she brilliantly juggles devices and windows, perhaps she is
trying to seduce him.  The seduction-demo.  The exacting woman seducing the
inexact man.  After tapping into the phone and transmitting the image that she
just took of him, she explains to him that the picture will be geocoded --
anchored with GPS coordinates -- and integrated into a mapping application, which
forever weds image to site. THIS site.  Good for the woman, horrors for the man: a
bad picture, not only forever archived in the database but fixed in place on a map
like a tourist attraction.  A ghoulish snapshot suddenly transformed into a wax
museum figure.  I wonder what "weight" this image is given, when it is
cartograph-ized.  By permanently anchoring it to a material site, does it carry a
stronger trace of the real?  Store a more vivid memory, a more embedded
experience, a more affective relation?  A more PRECISE and direct link between
mobile representation and ground-level actuality?

Surely, I think, the woman's next step is to do a retinal scan, in order to
further inscribe him in the real.  I glance at her purse, wondering what further
devices it may contain.  The man, somewhat uneasily, says he will b e right back,
and quickly exits the room.  I consider that he will flee out the back exit,
running off into the horizon, toward some other set of landscape metadata.  The
precision-woman, wasting no time, pivots toward he r computer and begins to peck

I consider her methods.  Are they the result of a precision-driven impulse to wed
sign and thing and therefore "capture" the object more directly and efficiently
(cut through the clutter) -- or do they manifest some kind of deeper, longed-for
attachment to the real?  In other words: am I witnessing the drive for an evermore
precision-driven representation amidst the clutte r of everyday information
overload, or am I witnessing a longing to jettison representation entirely, in
favor of a more direct relation to the real object of attention?

The precision-woman suddenly stops and sits back quietly, as if surrenderin g her
arms, and begins to stare wistfully offscreen.  A momentary lapse in he r war on
distraction.  I sit back, too, and let my vision drift.


A PRECISION-DRIVEN methodology, which works with technologies and symbols i n
order to increase efficiency and accuracy.  A longing to jettison representation
entirely, in favor of a direct and unmediated relation to th e real.  In every
case, technology is central.  For it has already determined , in advance, the
manner of approach[1] -- as part of the larger circuit though which all acts of
viewing must pass.

Let's address this question of "precision" on two fronts: one, as a
technologically-enabled drive toward efficiency and accuracy -- a drive to augment
human capabilities by developing new human-machine composites, connecting and
joining forces with multiple processing agencies, wherever o r whatever they might
be; and two, as a technologically-assisted drive to reduce mediation and offer a
form of direct connection to our real objects of inquiry.  We might call these the
effective and the affective.  Both aim for the goal of instantaneous vision: a
real time perceptual agency in whic h multiple actors, both human and machinic,
are networked and able to act in concert.  A real time perceptual agency in which
time and space intervals can be eliminated, reducing the gaps between detection,
analysis, and engagement, or desire and its attainment.  A real time perceptual
agency that can somehow touch the real.

Yet the drive for the real, as Zizek suggests, always culminates in its opposite:
theatrical spectacle. Why?  Because the real is only able to be sustained if we
fictionalize it.[2] To look for the real, then, is not to look for it directly: it
is to look to our fictions, discerning how realit y is "transfunctionalized"
through them.[3] Perhaps the real object of the precision-drive is not only
arrived at through reduction, but through expansion.  To look to the object of the
precision-drive is not only to narrow the optic, honing in on the target of
attention: it is to look to the cultural fictions in which the object becomes
lodged.  It is to open th e optic; theatricalize it.  To accommodate cultural
fictions is to acknowledg e the constitutive role of conflict.  What aspects of
the real are transfunctionalized through our conflict imaginaries?

It's difficult to acknowledge the necessity of conflict, because we always assume
that selfless cooperation is the norm.  When we speak about the formation of real
time perceptual agencies -- which, again, manifest a distributed processing and
storage capacity among humans and machines, enabling increased efficiency and
accuracy (cutting through the clutter) -- we often assume that cooperation reigns. 
We're all in this together, after all, building the utopian dream of the global
village, the wired world, or the global brain. And yet: competition plays an equal
role.  We don't necessarily want to see on a level playing field alongside
everyone else. We need to see faster, better, and more precisely -- whether in the
name of convenience, profit, or protection -- in order to outwit competitor and
combatant alike.  We are driven equally by such acquisitive and aggressive
impulses.  They are the stuff of our cultural dramas.  They derive from the
production demands of both consumerism and warfare -- to the extent that these
become mutually reinforcing components of the same economic engine. The engine is
also a subjective and somatic one.

When, in a competitive consumer-security culture, machine-aided perception moves
toward the strategic, the panoptic, and the pre-emptive, then we no longer see but


TRACKING ARISES as a dominant perceptual activity in a computerized culture where
looking has come to mean calculating rather than visualizing in the traditional
sense[4] and where seeing is infused with the logics of tactics and maneuver --
whether in the mode of acquisition or defense.  Such processes of calculation, and
their necessary forms of information storage (memory), are distributed and shared
in a larger field of human and technological agency. The object is dislodged from
any inherently fixed position, and instead becomes a mobile actor in a shared
field of competitive endeavor.  In Virilio's terms, the object becomes a traject.

What happens when we track?  We aim for a real time perceptual agency, in a more
direct and precise relation to the moving object at hand.  We aim to detect,
process, and strategically codify a moving phenomenon -- a stock price, a
biological function, an enemy, a consumer good -- in order to gain advantage in a
competitive theater, whether the battlefield, the social arena, or the
marketplace.  The power to more accurately "see" a moving object is the power to
map its trajectory and extrapolate its subsequent position.  In an accelerated
culture of shrinking space and time intervals, tracking promises an increased
capacity to see the future. Leapfrogging the expanding present, it offers up a
predictive knowledge-power: a competitiv e edge.  It promises to endow us with the
ability to outmaneuver our adversaries, to intercept our objects of suspicion and

To track is to endeavor to account for a moving object -- which could be one's
self, since we track our own activities and rhythms -- in evermore precise terms
so as to control or manage it, lest it become unruly, wasteful, dangerous, or
unattainable as property.  It is to somehow access the moving object more fully
and deeply.  When the suspicious and acquisitive eye tracks its objects, it fixes
its sights on them as targets to be managed, eliminated, or consumed.  In so
doing, it inscribes itself i n the real, in a process that brings both object and
embodied subject into being. 

Tracking necessarily strives to narrow its scope, to move more directly int o the
space of the body substrate, as if it could then fully and completely "own" its
object of attention.  Through this process, its subject comes to know itself and
"readies" itself to act -- more quickly, efficiently, safely.  It cuts through the

So the drama goes.


WHILE TRACKING is about the strategic detection and codification of movement, it
is also about positioning.  It studies how something moves in order to predict its
exact location in time and space.  It fastens its objects (and subjects) onto a
classifying grid or database-driven identity assessment, reaffirming precise
categorical location within a landscape of mobility.

Rather than being fully about mobility on the one hand, or locational specificity
on the other, tracking is more accurately about the dynamic between.  We might
call this inclination-position.  Based on my previous patterns of writing and the
literary conventions that it follows, I am likely to write three more sentences in
this paragraph. Based on previous patterns of key strokes, I am likely to take a
break at 3:10.  Based on previous airport records, my flight is likely to depart
in two hours and eighteen minutes.  The tracked object may be THERE, but it is
moving like THIS and will be in THIS future position at THIS future moment.

This is a landscape in which signifiers have become statistics.

It is how computers think, and how we begin to think with them.


TRACKING EMERGED out of the mid-century demands of war and production.[5] I t
emerged through the development of computing, the wartime sciences of information
theory and cybernetics, and the development of structuralism. It coalesced out of
a fear of the enemy Other, and helped bring a modality of both friend and enemy
into being.[6]

Rather than performing a historical analysis, let us set the stage for a
performance.  We begin at the historical tipping-point where tracking coalesced as
a techno-discursive ensemble -- that is, as a cluster of tools , procedures, and
metaphors, which function at the level of language, materiality, and belief.[7]
For as Guattari would point out, technologies do not merely convey
representational contents, but contribute to the development of new assemblages of
enunciation.[8] These techno-discursive ensembles become stored in the operational
strata of organization and practice.[9] They are bundled into tracking.  Character
background. Back-story. 

Tracking, then, is not simply a technology or a modality of perception, but a
cluster of discursive orientations.  It is through such discourses that subjects,
machines, and institutions are linked.

As tracking mediates between viewer, screen, and world, it generates the tactical
mindsets, communication modes, and sensorial and somatic adjustments that are
appropriate to it.  It provides a scrim through which relevant data is
historically selected, systems of address and command determined, and human and
cultural sensoria differentiated and re-integrated.


THE LEAD ACTOR in this historical performance is the military command, control,
and communications system known as SAGE.[10] Developed in mid-century wartime,
SAGE was a system that automatically processed digitally encoded radar data
generated by linked installations around the perimeter of the U.S., and then
integrated this with other communications and cartographical data.  It integrated
abstract information about position and movement and then superimposed it upon
schematic maps.  If a hostile incoming object was detected, jets could
automatically be directed to intercept it.  Within the matrices of SAGE, tracking
emerged as a form of machine-aided, calculated seeing, studying movements of
objects in order to prepare for their possible interception.

The conditions of the scene are well told by Heidegger.  To represent something is
to put ourselves "into the picture" in such a way as to take precedence over our
object.  We put ourselves into the scene: we enstage ourselves as the normative
setting in which the object must thereafter present itself.  We become the
representative of that which has the character of object.[11] We attest to it,
normalize it.  The user is presse d into the mold of the real by the fact and act
of the system: brought into a direct relationship with it, as something which
could only heretofore be intuited. Technology sets the conditions for the

What we see is defined within the discursive paradigm of such technologized
seeing.  Subsequently, we begin to see ourselves in these terms.  We internalize
the classificatory logics.  Worlds and bodies are tagged, annotated, and anchored
within a new symbolic-material landscape, providing models for thought and
identification.  They affect how we speak, perceive, and move.  They set in place
a calculus of ontological division, which presses both subject and object into

Through the mechanisms of SAGE, a vigilant seeing arose, accompanied by a demand
for "preparedness," both in terms of one's own body and the collective
machine-body of the military: an individual and collective
alertness-on-the-edge-of-action.  An analytical perception combined with an
incipient mobilization.  New patterns of organization, vigilance, and actio n
emerged: new modes of awareness and perceptual activity that could enframe and
make sense of the volumes of abstract information that were suddenly at hand.  A
new landscapes of preparedness coalesced, which traversed individual body, nation,
and culture alike, generating a myriad of cultural effects.  Duck-and-cover
drills.  Bomb shelters. Detective fiction.

We are not only speaking of a technology, but of a subjectifying and socializing
technique, which impacts on language as well as the entire sensorium of the body.


STRATEGY GAMES also play an important role in this historical drama. Especially
during the Cold War, increasingly powerful modeling and prediction technologies
were needed in order to reach into the future and anticipate events, since actual
weapon technology could not be used.  This fueled an orientation of pre-emptive
seeing: a form of vision that was always slightly ahead of itself, which not only
anticipated probable events but, in some corner of the imaginary, seemed to mold
reality to fit the simulated outcome.  Simulated worlds paralleled real worlds,
and beliefs about each were reflected in both.  To be prepared was to anticipate
the worst, and the worst could only be modeled. Once modeled, it was introduced
into reality.  Assumptions, beliefs, and mind-sets arise out of the
technical-semiotic machinery of simulations as they are practiced, as such
orientations in turn get embedded in its operational strata.  A mechanism o f
training, or rehearsal, in new forms of movement, combat, and identification. 

>From mid-century onward, the systematic, logical rules of computing helped produce
the sense that everything -- ground realities, warfare, markets -- could be
formalized, modeled, and managed.  Reality was figured as mathematical and
B3capturableB2 through a formal programming logic.  The worl d became predictable,
pliable; the future controllable.[12] Again, this is no t something that military
technology alone produces: it is bound up in a muc h larger historical enunciative
field -- in this case, a field of structuralist orientation, where reality began
to be seen as determined by linguistic codes, and attention turned to the codes
and conventions that produce meaning.

One could suggest three intersecting conditions, descending from this wartime
technical-discursive ensemble, that are bundled into tracking 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 countermoves.

These conditions form part of the operational strata of all contemporary media. 
Particularly with television and Internet, the media viewer is infused with an
artificial sense of control over the machine and an exterio r world represented on
the screen.  Reality is subsumed within the dictates o f the interface.  An unruly
or unproductive situation is dominated, over and through the technology, and a de
facto power relation is established betwee n observer and observed.

The stage is set. Moving through a world of information and communications
technology, information is increasingly seen as more essential than that which it
represents.  Pattern is privileged over presence.[13]


ACCORDING TO Virilio, the real time interface has replaced the interval tha t once
constituted and organized the history and geography of human societies . Problems
of spatial distance have been supplanted with problems of the time remaining.[14]
Again, tracking is motored by the need for an instantaneity of action, where time
delays, spatial distances, and B3middlemenB2 are reduce d through computational
systems that facilitate the sharing of human and machinic functions.  A
combinatory field of perception arises within a distributed field of shared
functions, and a new form of agency emerges, spanning spatial distance and merging
information from multiple sources.

Consider the new generations of post-SAGE actors: "network-centric" warfare
systems, which aim to develop a worldwide satellite, sensor, and communications
web geared for panoptic global oversight and instantaneous military response. The
goal is a wireless, unified computing grid that can link weapons, systems, and
personnel in real time, making volumes of information available instantly to all
military and intelligence actors. According to one major player in this industry,
such a system will allow every member of the military to have B3a GodB9s eye
viewB2 of the battlefield.[15] Through such a system, the military predicts that
it will be capable of "finding, tracking, and targeting virtually in real time any
significant element moving on the face of the earth.B2[16] Tracking as the
ultimate panoptic ideal, propelled by a sense of divine right, could not be more
explicitly stated.

This integrative history -- a history of prosthetic extension -- belongs to
military and mass media alike.[17] The intertwining of human and machinic
capacity, in the generation of a combinatory field of perception, is the history
of popular media itself.

Consider that 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 apparatu s that populates its
field of vision, adjusting to the rhythmic codes of its conveyance.  A perceptual
capacity and a signifying apparatus emerge throug h an integration of human and
machine.[18] Consider, too, the extent to whic h television integrates the viewer
in a shared machinic circuit.  Reflecting the viewerB9s own thought process, it
develops its own conventions of simulated deliberation, absolving the viewer of
the labor of decision-making[19] -- as when a laugh track allows one to maintain a
relaxed composure while the machine assumes the labor of chuckling.

In any spectatorial situation, a subject is distributed within a larger circuit 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 o r inserted into larger networks of
seeing and linguistic meaning.

As always, time is of the essence.  For both the military and the civilian
observer, there is little 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 an d shooting.  In the popular
realm, slowness -- the stuff of reflection and deliberation -- is to be avoided. 
In a real time media landscape, there is no time to think.


THE SUN IS slipping below the horizon outside the airport, backlighting the
cluster of planes gathered outside.  The precision-driven woman lowers her
computer screen in synch with the diminishing light. With the click of the
laptop's closure, the sun vanishes.

Perhaps she has had enough computer time.  I watch as her eyes drift hazily around
the concourse.  I have caught her in between media inputs, it seems -- her
attention momentarily adrift, her subjectivity suspended.  I think o f the extent
to which consciousness and attention are effects of media technology -- effects of
storage, computation, and transmission systems. Kittler would see this woman in
terms of different states of information storage and transfer, an embodied subject
coalescing around a circuit of perceptibility.

I think about her precision-driven methodology, and her embrace of technologies of
positioning. Surely, she is aware of the trade-off: her technologies are those
that aim to increase productivity, agility, and awareness, yet they vastly
increase the tracking capabilities of marketing and management regimes.  Tracked,
she becomes a target within the interface s of the marketing worlds, into whose
technologies state surveillance is outsourced.

Yet at the same time, she's in the driver's seat, shaping her arena of visibility. 
I think about the forms of maneuver and masquerade that she must engage in: blogs,
friendship networks, phonecams, Flickr.  A pervasiv e web of shared resources that
offers boundless opportunity for identity refashioning.  For her, no doubt, the
challenge is to discover how to turn the situation to her own advantage.  In a
database-driven culture of accounting, one needs to appear on the matrices of
registration in order to B3count.B2 To be accounted for is to exist.

Tracking as a technology of the self.

The precision-woman's eyes settle on a nearby television monitor.  I synch my
vision with hers.  The media-technological system catches us, subjectivizes us,
through the device of its program.  What we see looks lik e a videogame.  A pilot
is flying an aircraft during a combat situation in Iraq.  The aircraft 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 pilotB9s 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

Suddenly, the clip ends.  A zoom out frames the image within a newsroom stage.  A
news anchor appears.  She meets our gaze and addresses us in term s of a
collective B3we.B2 We are placed in position, momentarily aligned with this
combinatory operator, sharing its perspective, hailed as subjects within its
operational world.


TRACKING IS, again, not simply conducted through abstract data about position and
movement. It is conducted through forms of computer-aided visualization.  It is
conducted through sophisticated graphic information systems, formatted according
to geographic or other spatial paradigms, oriented for the humans who must
interpret it and transform it into actionable intelligence.  These visual
interfaces function in terms of the tradition of cartographic-representation as
well as the tradition of simulation: while the former maintains a strict division
between viewer an d image, the latter complicates that divide, embodying users in
a virtual, immersive space, which reorients or replaces the actual space in which
they are located.[20]

These graphic systems have not developed in isolation.  They have developed in
conjunction with film and television.  They reflect the conditions of popular news
and entertainment media, as in turn, these media embody the conditions of computer
visualization.  There is a constant flow back and forth.  To a large extent,
tracking has been integrated into a regime of networked spectacle that no longer
heeds media distinctions.  It has helped generate a landscape of preparedness that
traverses media forms and civilian-military bodies alike.

According to Kittler, what we understand as media are increasingly mere effects on
the surface of a much more comprehensive digital base.  As the general
digitization of information and information channels increases, the differences
between individual media are erased.  Since any algorithm can b e transformed into
any interface effect, media are becoming mere interfaces within the (increasingly
globalized) information circuit.[21] To understand tracking, we are compelled to
look broadly, at the combination of media forms, agencies, and rhetorical
modalities that it registers.

In many ways it is the entertainment industry that has led the charge. Following
the end of the Cold War, the Department of Defense -- which has been the major
source of funding for high-end computer graphics, visualization technologies, and
network infrastructure for decades -- has become increasingly reliant on
commercially-available items and components, many of which are developed in the
videogame market.  In terms of ideas, personnel, and products, there is a
continuous exchange between the military, commercial designers, and the
entertainment industry.  Military planners work closely with industrial partners
in team fashion. Research work for high-end military products is seamlessly
integrated with systems i n the commercial sector.[22]

Consider "serious games," developed by the military in the commercial realm ,
which serve as a combo of entertainment, military recruitment, training, an d
public relations.  Such games are extraordinarily successful -- one game,
America's Army, ranks as one of the most popular games ever.  As military
simulations are adapted to the commercial game market, so, too, are commercial
videogames adapted for military purposes. It was the military that once drove the
development of graphics and processor hardware.  No longer: it is now the
commercial videogame market that drives it. The game industry is reaching 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 becomin g
integrated within a much larger hybrid simulative field.[23] In a sense,
programming like FX Channel's "Over There," which is about soldiers fightin g in
Iraq, is already a simulation: it is the first American television dram a that has
tried to process a war as entertainment while it was still being fought.  In such
a media landscape, perhaps simulation is becoming less a modality of
representation than a mechanism of translation: a form of incipience or
potentiality that moves across various stages of enaction.

The desire for realism in tracking does not derive from military applications
alone.  It derives from film, television, and fiction. Developers of videogames
and military flight simulators alike have been influenced by popular films and
novels.[24] The world of the military and the world of entertainment are both
driven by a cultural imaginary, which i s a composite of multiple narratives
whether fact or fiction.


SUCH ARE the theaters in which tracking must be situated.  It is part of a vast
production machinery that is hungry for content, realism, and compelling
narrative.  Back-story is key, requiring the development of databases of
historical and geographical data.  The drive for compelling narrative development
in simulations -- whether from imagined or actual warfare scenarios -- influences
popular news and entertainment programming.

One could suggest that the demands of simulation drive news programming. Consider
the relentless 24-hour machinery of contemporary news.  It is a profit center that
demands ever-new, 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. There is no time to remember,
because the next crisis -- alway s imminent -- demands our full vigilance.  Battle
simulations, television shows, and interactive games inhabit a
mutually-reinforcing system of marketable threats, enticements, and protections. 
A disaster imaginary takes hold, which traffics across the worlds of fact and
fiction, promiscuously borrowing its parts and depositing them across a wide range
o f cultural phenomena.  The phenomenon of "news gaming" is one obvious
manifestation -- though the term is redundant, since news has already been
structurally absorbed within the entertainment machine, with gaming one of its
primary engagement modes.

We are here in the territory of the B3logistics of perception managementB2[25 ] --
the realm of spin and B3reality control,B2 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 th e public becomes
a surface for the production of effects.  There is nothing outside of this system,
and especially as it is increasingly able to tap into the affective dimension,
where danger is eroticized. It produces a subject who is prepared for both
disaster and desire, as both are subsumed into a larger cosmos of affective
stimulation: a citizen indoctrinated to "be ready," in both a physical and
cognitive sense, for any call to action.

A citizen inscribed in the real.


THE AIRPORT FEELS charged with electricity.  A storm seems to be blowing in . 
Flights have been cancelled, and travelers' nerves are starting to fray.  The sky
outside is ominously dark, and the overhead spotlights have transformed the
concourse into an enormous stageset.  The precision-driven woman, after firing out
another round of emails, has since boarded her flight.  She is now surely speeding
through the air, following her plane's trajectory on the GIS. 

My flight has been delayed twice.  I close my laptop and flip open my mobil e
phone.  I am interrupted by an all-too-familiar address over the intercom system,
compelling me to report suspicious persons.  Stimulated by the theatrical setting
of the airport, I decide to inhabit the drama.  One has to allow oneself to slip
into roles in order to truly understand the implications of the new security
culture.  I adopt a position of dutiful vigilance: the citizen-detective.  Eyes
narrowed, I scan the concourse for suspicious behavior.  I secretly wonder what
kind of suspicious activity I should be looking for, and what could possibly
compel me, were I to locate some such person, to scurry over to Security to report

I glare at a woman who has stopped abruptly in the main corridor.  She stands idle
amidst the flow, the rush of passersby nearly tumbling over her in their haste.  I
cast a wary glance at a man in a green sweatsuit as he fondles an object of
concern, concealing it from public view.  I stare at a man who repeatedly pads his
pocket nervously. I spot an unattended bag.  A babbling infant.  A book. 

Suddenly, I realize the most insidious part of the drill: What about *me*?
With this realization, I am transformed. I am the person at SartreB9s keyhole,
caught in the act, who knows that he is seen at the moment he sees .  I have now
become an object for the gaze of another.  Looked at, I look at myself.  Concerned
that I could be B3suspect,B2 I modify my actions accordingly. 

When we internalize the gaze of suspicion, we will surely find deviance in
ourselves, even if we have to produce it. 

The roar of an accelerating airplane cuts across the departure hall, ending my
reverie. My gaze turns to a flickering TV monitor across the room.  A group of
fans has gathered around it, cheering as some kind of race reaches its
culmination.  I approach to see what's up.  On the corner of the television
screen, a digital readout clocks the timing of the runners as they cross the
finish line.  The winner, formerly determined by eye, it is now gauged by the
machine.  It is measured in tenths of seconds -- differences that unaided vision
can no longer determine.

The performance machine.  It is the primary contestant against which the players
compete.  It also provides the condition for my own pacing: even though I do not
play this game, I am its contestant.  I "clock" myself, kee p track of progress,
measure change against prevailing norms of fitness.  I endeavor to self-optimize,
or to keep in shape.  I track goods, friends, an d capital flows.  I am part of
the collective agency that keeps track.


 IF TRACKING moves toward an instantaneity of action -- eliminating time an d
space intervals and connecting multiple actors, human or not, as if they were one
-- then in the extreme case, as Virilio would have it, this real time arena is one
in which "coincidence" takes the place of communication [26], and the emphasis
shifts from the "standardization of public opinion" to the "synchronization of
public emotion."[27] In a real time world where there is less and less time to
act, or where action plays out in barely-measurable fractions of seconds,
interpretive attention must turn to the realm of the micro -- those
semi-"interior" states that accumulate at the border of action, just under the
horizon of visibility. This is the realm not of visible action, but of a
disposition to act, or a certain readiness to act. 

If we look to the realm of affect, we're getting warm.  We're getting close to it. 
According to Deleuze, affect fills the interval between perception and action. It
is a modality of perception that ceases to yield an action and instead brings
forth an expression. It is a movement that is not engage d outwardly but absorbed
inwardly -- a tendency or interior effort that halts just this side of doing.  It
is about how one experiences oneself as oneself, or senses oneself from the
inside:[28] the perception of one's ow n aliveness, vitality, and changeability,
which can be sensed as "freedom."[29] It is the body's sense of the aliveness of a
situation, which also moves across the intercorporeal world,[30] generating a
sense of coincidence between subject and object.

Affect is about the incorporealization of information, not its representation: a
corporeal "thinking" that is preconscious and pre-active , and which does not
necessarily resolve to a statement.  In this sense it is deeper than semantics. It
functions not through linguistic mediation but through direct stimulation of the
of movement or rhythm over calculi of symbolic positioning.  It does not traffic
in meaning but in motivating power.

This is a contradictory domain.  Scopophilic pleasures and surveillant anxieties
cohabit.  "Morbid curiositiesB2 flourish.  Violence is both horrific and
pleasurable. To acknowledge this domain is to admit danger as a constitutive
element of attraction: the unpredictable, perilous web of intrigue that pulls us
into the narrative world.  It is to attest to the necessity of conflict. 

Affect would seem to bring us closer to the real -- the hidden fantasmatic
underside of our sense of reality, which cannot be incorporated into the symbolic
order of language or into the domain of shared images.  We will tr y to track and
capture it, as quickly and efficiently as possible -- as I do within the
paragraphs of this text.  I try to put my finger on it, touch it with precision,
press it into the service of argument.  Yet it cannot be assimilated.  It is
however a necessarily illusion, for without it, our entire apparatus of
signification would crumble.  Tracking would cease to exist. 


THIS BODILY SITE of the micro -- an affective space-time of bodily awareness,
disposition, and readiness -- is one that has become increasingl y analyzable and
explicitly political through practices and techniques that are aimed at it
specifically.[31] It has become measurable through new technologies of tracking
and filtering that are able to probe into the intimate and nearly instantaneous
states of bodily movement, orientation, disposition, mood; array them as
calculations, statistics, and simulations; and cross-reference them with databased
records of consumer or citizen behavior.  This produces a newly constituted body
of measurable states and functions, whose inclinations to act are quantifiable and
understood as predictable.  Inclination-position provides the semiotics of
tracking. It plays out in new systems of production that aim to narrow the
intervals between conception, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption --
shrinking the delays between detecting an audience pattern and formatting a new
enticement that can address it.

According to John Armitage, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "Be Ready"
campaign operates on this space of imminent mobility.  The "readiness" it promotes
has no real object, and is simply perpetuated in a kind of self-generating
machine. Yet it is a profoundly operational space, where the individualized
"desire for mobility" -- the consumerist impulse - - is recoded and displaced onto
the theaters of embodied threat.[32]

Desire and fear cohabit here, at the threshold of action, as such concepts as
"freedom" do double duty, promoting a freedom of mobility as well as a sense of
freedom that can only result from "defending our way of life" -- that is, the
right to own and consume.  Buying, then, functions as both pleasure and defense: a
form of bodily and social enhancement, and a form of defense against that which
would threaten it. 

This is an interlocking mechanism of acquisition and defense that becomes the very
condition of mobility -- a B3freedom of mobilityB2 that is about defending the
right to own and circulate objects, to constitute oneself as an object to be
marketed, to defend these objects from harm, and to forge new pathways within
unruly, "dangerous," or adventurous market territory.  It is a process of defining
the self in terms of an unbounded menagerie of attractions and fears, which leaves
it forever lacking. Through an interlocking mechanism of selling and consuming,
looking and buying, acquiring and defending, one grazes along endless arrays of
enticements offered up for the desirous and protective eye -- enticements that are
aime d at the replication of desire in the eyes of others, or of drawing the
groundlines of defense. 


"READINESS," then, offers a provocative new analytical concept, which emphasizes
the embodied dimension of the perceptual mode of tracking.  It de-privileges the
visual, or concepts of the perceptual that do not fully engage the affective
dimension -- as we find in the ocular-centric discourses of visual studies.  It
maintains a dimension of pleasure, ignore d in many theories of contemporary
power.  For it is not simply repressive in a disciplinary sense: it is also

Through the scrim of readiness, we can understand tracking as characterized by a
shift toward real time engagements and continuous, heightened states o f alertness
and preparedness, in such a way as to generate an embodied state of receptivity
for both conflict and libidinous consumption.  It produces the body as a receptive
site for both fears and attractions, and thereby integrates combat and commodity. 
It functions as a hinge between war and consumerism. 

What is needed in order to address this landscape is not only a biopolitics but,
as Nigel Thrift suggests, a microbiopolitics.[34] If new technologies of
networking, speed, and tracking have opened up this site of the micro -- the
affective space of intimate bodily awareness, disposition, and readines s -- then
this is a space that can be politicized. 


A LARGE BODY of theoretical work has focused on the delocalizing or
deterritorializing effects of real time technologies.  They are often regarded as
having contributed to the evacuation of geographical space, overriding the
specifics of place and distance.  Virilio, for example, has often suggested that
real time technologies and their accompanying dimensio n of "liveness" have
prompted the disappearance of physical space -- in othe r words, that "real time"
has superceded "real space."  For him, such deterritorialization can only lead to

What we are witnessing today, however, is not a one-way delocalization or
deterritorialization, but rather a volatile combination of the diffused and the
positioned, or the placeless and the place-coded. Perhaps nowhere has this been
more apparent than with mobile GIS and location-aware technologies.  These
technologies and discourses are serving to weave together degrees of temporal and
spatial specificity.  They are helping to generate an emerging precision-landscape
where every object and human is tagged with geospatial coordinates: a world of
information overlays that i s no longer virtual but wedded to objects and physical
sites. Communication i s tagged with position, movement-flows are quantified, and
new location-aware relationships are generated among actors, objects, and spaces. 

Tracking has played a primary role in this shift.  Its landscapes of
inclination-position fuel the geospatial interfaces -- such as evidenced in Google
Maps and the C5 GPS media player[36] -- which are becoming important modes of
access to any phenomenon.  As media become contextualized with geospatial data and
become interoperable, the web is transformed into a expanding atlas of sorts.  The
geospatial web browser emerges as a primary interface.  Reading and researching,
in this case, is transformed into a search-and-target mission -- a
cut-through-the-clutter, precision-driven viewing experience that, as always, is
both fueled and delimited by media-technologies and their institutions.  These
technologies and institutions determine specific rules that circumscribe how we
search, speak, and write.  Within their matrices, actors, objects, and sites
coalesce.  New cartographies arise. 

With its culmination in location-aware media, has tracking helped inscribe us in
the real, or has it, following Zizek, culminated in its opposite -- theatrical
spectacle? To what extent does conflict -- whether in terms of competition, war,
or drama -- provides its necessary friction? 


I BOARD MY FLIGHT and think again of the precision-driven woman, the star o f the
show, and the inexact man, the character who was written off.  On board , however,
I enter a new arena of performance.  The lights dim, the engines roar, and the
plane accelerates.  The man across the aisle from me -- a blurry mass of anxiety
and pleasure -- grips the armrest, thrusts his head back, and opens his mouth in a
wild grimace.  Fear or delicious exhilaration?  A roller coaster ride or a dance
with death? 

The plane levels off, and the cabin springs to life.  A chorus of gadgets lights
up across the aisles: seat-mounted monitors, DVD players, laptops, videogames. A
carnival of media inputs, bathing the cabin in the glow of otherworldly
distraction.  All passengers are absorbed into a world of entertainment: a
spectacular nonplace that is everywhere but here.  I consider for a moment that
tracking -- precision-guided seeing for a mobile , competitive, and accelerated
consumer-security culture -- is fast absorbed into a much more constitutive mode
of engagement. 

What is that mode?

My seat mate plugs into her game console, as I write the cliffhanger for this act. 


With special thanks to John Armitage, Virtanen Akseli, and Marketta Seppala .

Published in Framework 4, December 2005.


1.  Martin Heidegger, "The Age of the World Picture," reprinted in Timothy
Druckrey, ed., Electronic Culture: Technology and Visual Representation (Aperture,
1996), p. 49.  For an important discussion of the contemporary relevance of
Heidegger's work see Arthur Kroker, The Will to Technology and the Culture of
Nihilism: Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Marx (University of Toronto Press, 2004),
especially "Hyper-Heidegger: The Question of the Post-Human."

2.  Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (Verso, 2002).

3.  Ibid.

4. This insight is that of Lars Spuybroak, cited in Mark B. N. Hansen, New
Philosophy for New Media (MIT Press, 2004) p. 123.

5. One could begin with the development of radar during World War II, or even much
earlier. But my emphasis is on computer-enabled tracking.  I will understand
tracking here in its computer-assisted, rather than earlier analog, forms

6.  Peter Galison, B3The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Weiner and the Cybernetic
Vision,B2 Critical Inquiry 21:1, Autumn 1994, pp. 228-266.  See also Peter
Galison, B3War Against the Center,B2 Grey Room 04, Summer 2001, pp . 6-33.

7.  Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in
Cold War America. (MIT Press, 1996), pp. 1-15.

8.  Felix Guattari, "Regimes, Pathways, Subjects," in J. Crary and S. Kwinter,
eds., Incorporations (MIT Press, 1992), p18.

9. Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (Athlone Press, 2000), p48.

10.  For a comprehensive analysis of the history of SAGE, see Paul N. Edwards, The
Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. (MIT
Press, 1996).

11. Heidegger, pp. 57-58.

12. Edwards, pp. 1-15.

13. N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
Literature, and Informatics (University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 19.  This
book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the privileging of
information over embodiment, across the wartime sciences and cultural products of
the twentieth century. 

14. Paul Virilio, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (Verso, 1997), pp. 10, 19, 30 .

15.  B3A Network of Warfighters to Do Battle in 21st Century Conflicts,B2 New York
(AFP) Nov 13, 2004, from SpaceDaily.com, 15 Nov 2004. Thanks to Irving Goh for
this forward.

16.  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 B3Le Pentagone la tete dans les etoilesB2 in Liberation, 20 April

17.  For a brilliant discussion of this integration, see Ryan Bishop and John
Phillips, B3Sighted Weapons and Modernist Opacity: Aesthetics, Poetics,

Prosthetics,B2 Boundary 2, 29:2, 2002, p. 158-9.

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

19.  Eliane Scarry B3Watching and Authorizing the Gulf WarB2 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), 36-67.

20.  This definition is from Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (MIT Press,

21.  Friedrich Kittler, Grammophon, Film, Typewriter (Stanford University Press,

22.  My discussion of the integration of the military and entertainment industry
owes a huge debt to Tim Lenoir's pioneering research.  See Tim Lenoir, B3All But
War is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex,B2 Configurations, Fall
2000.  Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, B3Theaters of War: The Military-Entertainment
ComplexB2 in Kunstkammer, Laboratorium, BFChne--SchauplE4tze des Wissens im 17.
Jahrhundert, eds. Jan Lazardzig, Helmar Schramm, and Ludger Schwarte.  (Berlin:
Walter de Gruyter Publishers , 2003): 432-64.

23. This statement makes reference to Lev ManovichB9s statement that B3Born from
animation, cinema pushed animation to its periphery, only in the end t o become a
particular case of animation.B2 Manovich, The Language of New Media , p. 302.

24. Tim Lenoir, B3All But War is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex,B2
Configurations, Fall 2000.

25.  John Armitage, B3Beyond Postmodernism? Paul VirilioB9s Hypermodern Cultural
Theory,B2 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.  Paul Virilio, [CTRL]SPACE: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big
Brother, Thomas Levin, Ursula Frohne, and Peter Weibel, eds. (MIT Press , 2002),
p. 112.

27. Paul Virilio, "Cold Panic," Cultural Politics, Vol. 1 Issue 1, 2005 p. 29.

28. Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media, pp. 134-5.

29.  Brian Massumi, cit. in Nigel Thrift, "Intensities of Feeling: Towards a
Spatial Politics of Affect," Geografiska Annaler 86 B (2004), p. 61

30. Nigel Thrift, "Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect,"
Geografiska Annaler 86 B (2004).

31.  Ibid, p. 65.

32.  John Armitage, "On Ernst Juenger's 'Total Mobilization': A Re-Evaluation in
the Era of the War on Terrorism," Body & Society, Vol. 9(4), 2003, p. 204.

33.  J. McKenzie, cit. in Thrift, p. 64.

34. Thrift, p. 69.

35. Paul Virilio, in John Armitage, ed., Virilio Live (SAGE, 2001).

36. http://www.c5corp.com/projects/gpsmediaplayer/index.shtml


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