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Mark Andrejevic: Operational Listening

Melbourne Law School
Fri, 10. Aug 2018
Melbourne Law School G08, 185 Pelham Street Carlton, VIC
6pm

This presentation takes as its starting point the work of Harun Farocki and Trevor Paglen on the rise of the “operational image” to consider the related rise of what might be described as automatic or “operationalized” listening. This type of listening is becoming increasingly familiar thanks to the deployment of “smart speakers” and a growing array of networked audio sensors (from gunshot sensors to workplace monitors, smart phones, and audio surveillance on public transport). The talk describes the stakes of operationalism as the displacement of symbolic interpretation by action, and draws on psychoanalytic theory to consider the implications for subjectivity. The goal of the talk, then, is to raise the question regarding what is lost in the shift from comprehension and interpretation to operation. What does it mean to say that Alexa will gather information about your words but it doesn’t know what you mean (beyond purely operational commands)? The talk makes some speculative claims about the emergence of a world in which symbolic efficiency is replaced by operational efficiency. This is, perhaps needless to say, a fundamentally undemocratic process that is already becoming all-too familiar in these post-truth, post-deliberative, post-political times.

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