January 23, 2019.
Sightings is a collection of lo-res digital images captured by a surveillance camera installed in my attic. When I am away, the vigilant sentinel sends dispatches every time it detects any movements, activities, or other anomalies. These urgent notifications encourage me to check the live stream. Between December 20 2018 and January 20 2019, I received approximately two hundred notifications.
A notification prompts what a human being would call “vicious circle” and a techie “feedback loop”: the camera owner promptly verifies the veracity of the emergency. The phone vibrates, the meatware grabs the glassy rectangle, examines the message, clicks on the link, and scrutinizes the live stream, trying to discern any possible activity in the darkened room. I follow the instructions dutifully, without questioning the prescriptive nature of the ‘nudge’ (a Silicon Valley euphemism for indirect order). I subject myself to all sorts of psychological conditioning and technological manipulation. I am a willing victim of surveillance capitalism (Shoshana Zuboff). There is no smart camera, only dumb camera men. The internet-connected camera has taken full control of my life. In a sense, the camera owner is owned - pwned - by the camera.
So, did the camera spot any activity between December 20 2018 and January 20 2019? The answer seems to be no, but who can really tell these days? Joanna Zylinska tells us that nonhuman photographers can’t be wrong. Does that mean that I am falling repeatedly for algorithmic cry wolf? Or is my ocular prosthesis detecting something that transcends the capabilities of the human sight? Is the camera disturbed or disrupted by an elusive, semi-invisible presence? Has object recognition been superseded by abject recognition? As I contemplate the shades of pixelated grey of the “poor image” (Hito Steyerl), I wonder if my camera has been hacked. It’s either that or it’s a case of diabolical possession. In any case, the medium is the messenger. I listen closely to the live stream for a disembodied voice insisting that I subscribe to PewDiePie's YouTube channel. But all I hear is white noise. Somehow, that’s even more worrisome. Perhaps, the camera take over is just the first step toward complete domination. Soon I will be forced to watch perpetually, to stare into the darkness, like the fake AI detection algorithms of the Ring’s “smart camera”, in reality poorly paid flesh-and-bone mechanical turks located somewhere in Ukraine.
Hell is other people watching you, all the time.