Is ‘dataveillance’ an inevitable aspect of consumer society?
However, what many people fail to recognise is the fact that more often than not, this is not the primary purpose of these practices, but is merely a by-product of systems designed to assist tasks within the workplace. So could it be possible to say that even if ‘dataveillance’ is an inevitable part of consumer society it is not always necessarily intentional? To a certain degree I believe so. Using another of Lyon’s publications3, he goes on to state that ‘Until a decade ago, surveillance occupied no distinct place in the sociological lexicon’.
This poses an interesting statement for analysis in that, whilst it may suggest that surveillance techniques were not very well established in previous decades, surely it does not mean that they were completely non existent within society? (Take for example the English Philosopher Jeremy Bentham idea of a panopticon – an idea of an ‘all seeing place’/surveillance tower within a prison. His work and this notion date back to the 1700’s).
It is true that Lyon was writing in the 1980’s but technology and surveillance techniques were clearly already in place within society. Perhaps it is better to look at this statement as, in support of the title of this piece, more a case of the fact that the evolution of a more ‘consumer-based society’ has merely made us more aware of the notion of surveillance and that therefore ‘dataveillance’ is inevitable within ‘consumer society’.
Another case in support of this argument is that of the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard. He stated that, ‘Social life is monitored and controlled more and more by computerised machines’. Again writing in the 1980’s, Lyotard had clearly observed the increasing influence of monitoring and technology in society and predicted that this trend would only continue to grow in the decades to come. The prospect of surveillance, as Lyon again argues, has ‘No one future’4.
A rather valid point and important to understand in that whilst theorists such as Lyon and Lyotard can predict what might happen and envisage surveillance/ ‘dataveillance’ as being a part of consumer society, it is fair to say that no-one can accurately predict the rate at which technology can/will advance and how these changes will be reflected in society without being present in the time frames that they may relate to. This therefore raises the question as to whether it really is inevitable.
If no one can predict what forms that technological invention/surveillance will take, it cannot be said whole-heartedly that it is inevitable. Another point to make is that although the points mentioned by Lyon appear to help to aid the claim that ‘dataveillance’ is an inevitable aspect of consumer society, could it not equally be and aspect of less consumer based society as well? If society were to become more ‘production orientated’ I am in no doubt that these forms of data collection/surveillance, as previously mentioned, would cease to continue – therefore making it not specifically inevitable to merely ‘consumer society’.
An issue raised in a recent study undertaken by David Mason and his colleagues at Plymouth university drew to the conclusion that people are rarely aware of the surveillance that occurs, not only in the workplace but in society as a whole, the majority of the time. (Although they do claim that due to the lack of surveys/studies undertaken about this there is little information to back up this statement. However, I don’t feel it is a statement to be overlooked.
) If people are, as Mason et al state, unaware of the occurrence of surveillance then surely it makes it an extremely difficult task to draw to any conclusion about the fact that it is inevitable. To conclude then, I think it is fair to say that no single model, metaphor or argument is efficient enough to some up what is key/central to surveillance in contemporary, consumer society. The issue of ‘dataveillance’ is a vast topic and, as previously mentioned, it is hard to explain exactly what it entails due to the fact that it can fall into many ‘categories’ e.
g. surveillance in the workplace, or more specifically surveillance involving the nation state, for example. And if theorists such as Lyon and Lyotard are to be believed, then it is all around us in everything we do, so much so that it often goes unnoticed by us. I believe that ‘dataveillance’ is an inevitable aspect our ‘consumer society’ however I find it hard to believe the fact that, as again previously mentioned, it is only inevitable as part of ‘consumer society’.
As long as technology is present within a society, whether it is a consumer or a more production orientated society, I feel that surveillance will continue to be an intrinsic part of society. Ultimately, whether or not ‘dataveillance’ is an inevitable aspect of consumer society solely depends upon an individual’s own perception (and interpretation of the sociological concepts mentioned) as to what constitutes as ‘dataveillance’/consumer society.
As long as technology and surveillance are present then there will continue to be supplementary theories relating to the topic therefore, making this a question with no definitive answer. 1 ‘Surveillance Society: Monitoring everyday life’ (pg 143) 2 ‘Dictionary of Sociology’ (pg 112) 3 ‘The Electronic Eye: The rise of surveillance society’ (pg 6) 4 ‘Surveillance society: monitoring everyday life’ (pg 141)