> PRISM, Big Brother and the City of Songdo

Edward Snowden used to be a young technical assistant who worked for CIA. Recently he decided to denounce a huge surveillance system applied by NSA (National Security Agency). In the meantime Snowden disappeared as a traitor to the American government, but as a hero for many people. The sensationalist story beyond the man starts to be well-known, however it is also important to look at the social meaning of this system called PRISM. No one doubts that we live in collaborative times, mainly enhanced by the internet, where everything is so well-connected, so well-dated, and so well-documented. Particularly in United States, and after the "USA Patriotic Act" (2001), the public surveillance - on the streets for example - became acceptable to avoid terrorism, therefore, it seems that PRISM is causing discomfort not just because it is supposed to be secret, but also because it works exclusively with our virtual data. Yes, in general we became more sincere and reliable in social networks like Facebook, than in physical reality. Consequently we easily accept that government films our daily actions our that Google keeps our data, but we cannot consent that Google exposes what we do on the Internet to the government. In private companies we trust, in government we don't... 

This case introduces the political essence of Big Brother from George Orwell's book, and how we are moving towards an extreme technological society where every information must be used in order to maximize socioeconomic efficiency. To embrace technology is to embrace surveillance, and in a capitalist society, the purpose of the information does not matter. 

Despite the dystopian vision of George Orwell, society looks at organization and efficiency as very beautiful concepts. In urbanism, the paradigm of sustainability claims for Smart Cities - or Ubiquitous Cities - where everything should be connected and monitored in real time, by using information and communication technologies in every sector, from governance to industry. In South Korea a huge Ubiquitous City called New Songdo is being constructed from scratch, and is intended to be a possible model for the cities of tomorrow.

"Built on 1,500 acres of land in Incheon, about 56 km from the South's capital Seoul, Songdo International Business District is the largest private real estate development in history. By its completion date in 2015, the district is planned to contain 80,000 apartments, 4,600,000 m2 of office space and 930,000 m2 of retail space."

"New Songdo is an attempt to put into practice the concept of Ubiquitous City (U-City). An ubiquitous environment is where all information technology is applied and all systems are interconnected. This connection can be made in different ways, from simple wireless networks to radio frequency identification. The city is the epitome of an extreme digital lifestyle. It is estimated that all houses will have hundreds, even thousands of chips where many information could circulate."


"Imagine public recycling bins that use radio-frequency identification technology to credit recyclers everytime they toss in a bottle, pressure-sensitive floors in the homes of older people that can detect the impact of a fall and immediately contact help, cellphones that store health records and can be used to pay for prescriptions. The smart-card house key can be used to get on the subway, pay a parking meter, see a movie, borrow a free public bicycle and so on. Residents will enjoy full videoconferencing calls between neighbors, video on demand and wireless access to their digital content and property from anywhere in Songdo."

"There is some criticism about New Songdo planning, mainly because of the suspicion about the real efficiency of all that is promised and the privacy concerns. The U-City is a concept that pleased the Koreans, but the West has a different view about the interaction between men and extreme technology. Privacy concerns are related to the use of chips to load information and personal data. Technology experiences for some people, invasion of privacy for others. It is a fact that many of the technologies that will be tested will not be installed permanently in Songdo, but they come from other countries where there are social obstacles to their implementation."

"Songdo is finally a kind of Utopia, an idealized expression of the values and desires emanating from the political economy, with a full embrace of globalization: free-markets, linguistic homogenization (english will be the official lingua franca), rhetorical promotion of sustainability."
The project is designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, and the vice president for strategy at New Songdo City Development is John Kim... ... the former Yahoo! design leader. Despite the intense demand for houses, the project is facing some financial problems. These photos taken in 2012 show us a stunning empty city. When finished, the 65 000 people will know that someone is watching them, but they will not care.

(New Songdo project website)
(photos and citations taken from here and here)
(first part of a documentary about Songdo City - "Cities of the Future" series)
("1984" by George Orwell)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous24.9.13

    THis is a city of the future?

    Great article, but the U-City appears to be more of just the same old thing. American Capitalism has taken the notion of "consumerism" and effectively translated resource-depleting economics globally.

    The project --->the district is planned to contain 80,000 apartments, 4,600,000 m2 of office space and 930,000 m2 of retail space."

    The City will still run on energy, re: oil and need water. The office space and retail space will require global trade imbalances and exporting cheap resources and goods to balance out the demands of maintaining this "new" lifestyle.

    Surveillance is a tag-along issue. People are less concerned about "big brother" than they are about shelter and food. Until the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan. Than the surveillance is no longer an efficiency tool but a tool for the State and corporate interests. This not Utopia; this is the destruction of Western civilization writ large; this is pure folly and wholly unsustainable.


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