Saturday, November 23, 2013

Neologism Watch: Sousveillance

Jerry Brito this week has a great column on the idea of "sousveillance":
"Sousveillance is the recording of an activity by a participant in that activity, and it can be thought of as the inverse of surveillance. The word “sur” in French means “over” or “above,” hence surveillance is “watching from above” or “overseeing.” The word “sous,” by contrast, means “under” or “below.” To date, “veillance” has only been available to the powerful–whether through corporate or government CCTV cams perched atop buildings or utility poles–but with the advent of cheap wearable computers we will all soon be able to point a camera back at the powers that be from below."
Rapid adoption of technologies like smartphones, drones, and small wearable cameras really does necessitate an unpacking of the concept of veillance into more specific sub-categories. Sousveillance is creative, and provides a nice logical opposite to big institutional observation and recording. There's clearly still space in the middle, however, that remains undefined and murky. What should we call veillance that's carried out by individual participants but sponsored and organized by big institutions (Google maps, or police squad car cameras)? What about sousveillance that's collected in a disorganized distributed way but aggregated by central institutions?

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