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Sousveillance and Surveillance: What kind of future do we want?

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    Four possible future arise from the intersection of two competing approaches to technologies. These are the surveillance and sousveillance approaches.

    [See the full post at: Sousveillance and Surveillance: What kind of future do we want?]


    Of course, the devil is in the details. When you start to consider the quantity, quality, and type of information being gathered in each *-veillance, then we can start to determine its psychological and sociological impacts. I am actually finding it hard to find peer-reviewed papers on the psychological impacts of having a subject being watched, and being aware of it, but not having it directly obstruct the daily activities. In a purely, scientific sense, what are the consequences of ‘being watched’? What if you know that only your location is being monitored but not your activities? What if all your information is being monitored, but you can log on to confirm its accuracy and you know that it will not be shared – does that affect its desirability? I would argue that it is the uncertainty of the when, how, and who that is watching that is more of a annoyance than the likely compromising of the information. My perfect society is purely transparent with everyone knowing everything about everyone — and somehow allowing harmony and productivity to ensue. How would that work?


    Aligning with some of the work pursued by Professor Pentland and the team at MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, our vision at the hi:project designs to move beyond the parent-child dynamic of surveillance and sousveillance, toward the adult-adult interaction we label socioveillance. Such facility is critical if we are to scale up human relationships to correspond with every other facet of organization scaled up during the 20th Century, if we are to encourage or at least accommodate emergence of self-organization, of leaner and more responsive organization.

    Socioveillance was first mooted as part of the ‘Organized Self’ in a presentation I developed earlier this year, The Future of Organization.

    Looking at the ‘Four Types of Veillance Society’ figure, I’m not comfortable considering socioveillance as falling in any one of these quadrants per se, and I think this is related to the authority-based definitions. I can’t think of socioveillance in the context of functional structures / traditional hierarchy, but only in terms of decentralized and distributed authority. More sociocratic I guess.


    Is that presentation available online somewhere? I am very interested in what you are doing.


    Philip, interesting video. Some years ago we defined a concept we called Sociveillance, or Coveillance (Side-to-side companion veillance, as when two equals watch each other) [1].

    More recently we’re exploring the concept of Veillance, i.e. beyond the 20th Century “us-versus them” model of Surveillance, Sousveillance, and Sociveillance (Coveillance).

    Using the theory of economics in the context of a moral framework, we argue that Veillance will become balanced and this change will be inevitable [2].

    Mann, S., Nolan, J., & Wellman, B. (2002). Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments. Surveillance & Society, 1(3), 331-355.

    Click to access IEEE_ISTAS13_Veillance2_Ali_Mann.pdf

    I’d welcome your thoughts on this.




    That’s a pretty amazing paper which I hadn’t read before.

    I’m curious about your ideas about governance in a Sociveillance or Coveillance based society.

    For example, we have the notion of a secret ballot. But does a “secret” of this sort even make sense in your future social vision?

    Further, voting is a system of making decisions that seems to be based on the fundamental notion that the government does not know and must ask what peoples’ preferences are. However, it seems that won’t necessarily be the case in a sociveillant society.

    As an extension of social media, it seems people will simply publish or signal preferences and these preferences will always be available and in real-time. So a decision process wouldn’t need to be based around periodic events or elections but instead could dynamically adjust to actual stated preferences as they evolve and develop in response to events.


    Steve, thanks for pointing me to these papers, both new to me. I started three different replies here only to realise my response isn’t so much a comment as a blog post in itself… And my apologies in advance for using the c word (celebrity).

    McVeillance, coveillance, and socioveillance in the context of social business.

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