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What Does Privacy Mean?

I am starting a new project on the topic of privacy and firstly want to examine what does the term privacy mean to people.

To this end I have come up with three simple questions which I would love for people to answer:

  • What does the word privacy mean to you?
  • What does the word protection mean to you?
  • What does the word security mean to you?

A website will go live where you can submit your answers online shortly and again I have made a simple bookleteer publication which you can use to write your answers in and submit.

I would also like to record as many of you answering the questions as possible. The recordings would form the basis of an installation that I am developing around the concept of Numbers Stations.

If you would like to be recorded answering these questions or holding forth on the topic of privacy for as long as you like (the questions are just prompts, if you have some other way of framing the response then you are free to do that). Then please let me know and we will arrange a meeting to record your answers.

Email me at

We Are All Here

Back in 2005 I was playing with the idea of building a set of installations and interventions that were meant to trigger feelings and thoughts related to realising that we are all of this one earth. A grand gesture and one that is not an original one in art, philosophy or activism.

Is it worth re-visiting these ideas? As they stood they were little more than a few words in an email client and a few scribbles in notebooks. Today I am much closer to having the skills to realise some of them, though I also hope I have a better set of critical tools to examine why I wanted to build them and asses if they would still stand up to the task in hand.

I have posted them here, together with some feedback that Tom Igoe was kind enough to give me on the original ideas. They are here so that I can point to them in writing about what I do and to point back to my original thinking on certain things when new projects appear that frankly are the same echoes in my head trying to get out.

For a while I had the domain though none of this ever actually made it onto there.

We Are All Here – Telescope

building a dobson telescope
body, but with a computer in it, displaying Nasa WorldWind or
Celestia. You look into the telescope and see the earth from space,
move the telescope to move the globe, then call in different feeds to
overlay information . political, pop stats. etc. the stuff
Buckminster Fuller went on about looking at as a global system, if we
are to survive.

[[Tom’s feedback:

I like this idea, but there is a problem with it for me spatially. You’re talking about looking from the outside of the globe inward, so a telescope seems to be the wrong metaphor (I don’t know what a dobson telescope is, so tell me if I’m being an idiot here). Really, you want something more globe-like, don’t you? Or better yet, a way to move the telescope around a central point? I think the standard way you use a telescope would confuse people spatially, and have them concentrating on the use of the telescope, not on what they’re viewing.

On the other hand, the Squidlabs demonstrated something that might be up your alley last weekend. It’s basically a tablet computer with an accelerometer and magnetometer on board, so it senses its orientation relative to the earth. It overlays the city you’d be looking at if you looked through the earth. Point it upward, and it points to the star that’s in your field of view. They developed it as a demo of an augmented reality screen, but it occurs to me that it’s a great inteface for what you’re thinking of.

Another model might be a pair of binoculars that can “see” around the planet and through the planet. In both of these models, the direction the person looks is related to the planet they’re standing on. I think that’s important to your plan…]]

We Are All Here – Satellite in a box

building a series of boxes, that when open show
the earth as would be viewed from a specific satellite. The idea being
that these would be very nice wooden boxes, open up and you can see
the screen, possibly in a mirror in the lid, with the earth rendered
by Celestia at that current time, keep it open and watch the earth
scroll past.

[[Tom’s feedback:

I like this idea a lot. particularly if the orientation of the image changes when you move the box. You could make a small enough box with a single board computer or laptop (hell, even a Mac Mini) inside, and an accelerometer and matnetometer to sense the orientation. In fact, this might be the strongest idea of the lot.]]

We Are All Here – Sidewalk GeoScopers

[This was a project outline written in 2005]

Sign people up to become Sidewalk GeoScopers, take their laptops
out onto the street and show people the world as a system. Taking the
idea of the sidewalk astronomers, but getting people to look at us,
see what is happening elsewhere in the world etc.

[[At the time I shared these ideas with Tom Igoe and he was kind enough to give me some feedback:

That’s neat too. It reminds me a bit of the bluetooth pollution monitors that Ben Hooker et. al. worked on as part of the equator project. Again, here binoculars or magnifying glasses might be good metaphor to work with.]]

Plan for some big interventions (ok, this i want to do in NYC,
cos the UN is there) but do building projections etc of this stuff,
allow people to interact with teh geoscope data via their mobile
phones, as i put it light up the city with the world.

[[Love that idea. You should look at the work of Shimon Attie. His subjects are nothing like yours, but he’s got an aesthetic for building projection that’s fabulous. Wouldn’t it be a blast to be able to project right on the side of the UN building? Imagine it as a magic mirror looking out on the world.]]

I, Satellite (project proposal)

‘I, Satellite’ is an interactive experience to place the participant into earth orbit and to view the earth as if they were a satellite.

By using an Oculus Rift, the participant is presented with a view of the earth, via software that simulates the earth view like google earth. The participant can look around to change their view slightly, but they have no control over their direction and speed of travel. The view is that from an object in orbit.

The participant reclines in a hammock to simulate as much as possible the feeling of flotation.

Ideally using a pneumograph we can monitor the participants breathing which can be used to modify the sounds heard by the participant through headphones.


  • Oculus Rift dk
  • PC – running rendering software to generate the view
  • Pneumograph
  • Headphones
  • Hammock

Mark Simpkins
Iestyn Lloyd

The Individual In the Infrastructure

I submitted a paper to this conference back in 2005.

The conference call and details are below, for reference as most of the information on the conference are no longer online.

(I dug this information out from this mailing list archive :;7446326d.0305)

Subject: FW: Call for Papers – Urban Vulnerability and Network Failure
Date: Sun, 25 May 2003 13:51:02 +0100

Urban Vulnerability and Network Failure:
Constructions and Experiences of Emergencies, Crises and Collapse


An ESRC-Sponsored International Seminar jointly hosted by SURF, University of Salford and GURU, University of Newcastle Manchester, United Kingdom, 29-30 April 2004


In these times of ‘globalisation’ cities are being powerfully shaped
by their relationships with socio-technical networks and infrastructures.
These organise, and mediate, the distribution of people, goods,
services, information, wastes, capital, and energy between multiple scales
within and between urban regions. The contemporary urban process, and
contemporary social power, thus, more than ever, involve complex ‘cyborg’ liaisons and multiple, distanciated connections. These straddle many scales and link bodies, places, and institutions continuously with more or less distant
elsewheres. By making possible a myriad of mobilities such infrastructures
remake the spaces and times of urban life in the process.

On the one hand, the everyday life and ideology of the modern city is
dependent on the seamless and continuous functioning, together, of a
vast array of functioning technical systems(although, for vast numbers of
urbanites in the global South, the reality is often of little
connectivity and worse reliability). On the other hand, large swathes of contemporary corporate, state, and military power centres on the construction,
maintenance, legitimation and protection of vast arrays of extended
technological systems. Strung out across the world, and configured
carefully to support the ‘glocal’ geographies of power and connectivity
of contemporary capitalism, these network spaces – fibre optic networks,
airport and airline spaces, Just-in-Time logistics systems, E-commerce
and transactional flows, transnational energy systems, and so on — are
critical strategic supports to neoliberal globalisation. Linking up,
and mediating, key spaces and divisions of labour reliably, quickly and
seamlessly, the physical, energy, water and informational infrastructures
that sustain contemporary capitalism are perhaps the most critical
strategic supports of contemporary global capitalism.

A widening range of iconic infrastructure collapses serve as
opportunities to learn about the cultural, political, social and material dimensions of the importance of infrastructural connection in contemporary urban, and geopolitical, life. Since the early 1990s, to name but a few, iconic
collapsese and failures have included the Montreal ice storm, the
Auckland power blackout, the gas attack on the Tokyo underground, the Sydney
drought, the California energy crisis, the Chicago heat wave, the
failure of Hong Kong airport’s freight system, the September 11th attacks, and
the ‘Lovebug’ virus. The infrastructural devastation of countless urban wars
also needs to be considered here.

As seamless and 24 hour flows and connections become ever-more critical
for capitalist urbanism, however, so massive political, discursive and
material resources are being devoted to try and reduce the supposed
vulnerabilities that these systems exhibit to collapse, malfunctioning,
or attack. This is especially so when the September 11th and Anthrax
attacks, in particular, demonstrated that mobility systems, themselves, can be
appropriated as ‘terrorist’ weapons. ‘Resilience’, and ‘critical
infrastructure protection’, are ubiquitous buzz words in these times of
politically constructed moral panic, continuous states of emergency,
and the ongoing Bush-led ‘war on terror’. Huge resources and efforts are now
being devoted by States, infrastructure corporations, the military,
urban infrastructure agencies, and corporate capital to reducing the supposed
vulnerability of telecommunications, transport, logistics, transaction,
electricity, and utilities systems to technical failure, sabotage,
natural disasters or the failures caused by the reduced built in back-up that
often comes with liberalised markets. The glaring fragility, and low
reliability, of many computer-mediated communications and infrastructure systems is a particular focus of concern here. Examples include government programmes
to protect critical infrastructure, commercial services for network back
up, and military (and terrorist groups’) interest in the disrupting of
adversaries’ infrastructure networks. Civil defence programmes designed
to increase cities’ resilience to attack and targeting, and so on, are also
reaching unprecedented levels.

As Tim Luke has observed, networked connections and collapses also form
a critical focus of cultural politics. Narratives and discourses of failed
flow and connection stalk many underground and dystopian scenes and
genres of culture. Contemporary urban culture is full of accounts which reveal
a fascination with such moments of what he calls ‘decyborganisation’.
This is because they reveal, however fleetingly, the utter reliance of
modern urban life on distanciated flow and interaction. The cultural narratives
and representations that surround the failure and collapse of networked
infrastructures are a key aspect of their social importance.

Conference Aim and Objective

The core aim of this conference is to explore the ways in which
reactions to, and experiences of, the collapse of technical and networked
infrastructures within and between cities are constructed, experienced,
imagined, represented, and contested. We seek in particular to explore
these themes under conditions of growing infrastructural stress,
re-regulation, globalisation, increasing concerns with failure, the
changing geopolitical situation surrounding the ‘war on terror’, and the
strong fascination for infrastructural collapse within contemporary
culture. By bringing together researchers representing a range of
disciplines, including geography, history, sociology, critical theory,
development studies, political economy, geopolitics, surveillance and
defence studies, the objective is to stimulate interdisciplinary
discussion and collaboration that examines the meaning of connectivity and collapse in contemporary urban life, politics, governance, and culture.

Seminar Themes

(1) Conceptualising ‘Cyborg’ Urbanisation: How can urban, social and
critical theory conceptualise the socio-technologies of connection,
resilience, mobility, and collapse in contemporary cities ?

(2) Urban Vulnerability and Network Failures: Constructions and
Experiences of Emergencies, Crises and Collapse How do different disciplines
construct concepts of urban vulnerability and network failure ? How does network
stress and failure operate materially and how is it represented
politically and culturally ? Why, how and where do technical networks
collapse? What can be learnt about the discursive, economic or material
role of technical connections in a globalised context by studying what
happens when connections fail ? How does the governance of cities,
spaces and networked infrastructure intersect in various contexts to address
(and exploit ?) perceptions of stress and risk. How are such politics shaped
by broader political economies of globalisation, mobility, flow and
re-regulation ? How are corporate and popular fears of, and vulnerabilities
to, the failure of connectivity addressed in such processes of governance ?

(3) Networked Collapses as States of Emergency : What can be learnt from
in-depth case studies of instances of network failures or collapse ?
What happens when the normalisation of flow, mobility and connection breaks
down? What social, economic, and cultural coping mechanisms and innovations
are developed to deal with the collapse ? How do political and
governance coalitions at various scales, in states, cities and network spaces,
respond to failure ? What are the longer term political, economic or cultural
consequences of network failure ? How are crises and collapse in
infrastructures, and wider processes of ‘de-cyborgisation,’ represented
in contemporary culture ?

(4) Networked Collape, Security, and Organised Violence How do various
state and non-state militaries and target and destroy adversaries’
infrastructure networks? In what ways are national, homeland and urban
‘security’ strategies, and critical infrastructure protection policies,
being reforged to address, or exploit, fears of networked collapse ?
What political economic transitions do such strategies support? What
discursive, and linguistic constructions do such political strategies
rely on ? Beyond the hype what is the real scope of ‘cyberwar’ ? What
strategies and techniques are used? How effective, or widespread, is such
‘network-based’ warfare ? How does it relate to the current geopolitical
position (dominated by a single ‘hyperpower’ pursuing a ‘war on terror’
without apparent end to further its geopolitical interests in the Middle
East and Central Asia)?

Abstract Submission

Please submit a 250 words abstract to Steve Graham and Simon Marvin before September 1st 2003.
Papers will be required for pre-circulation before the seminar that will be
hosted in central Manchester, United Kingdom in April 2004.

My paper, which was accepted was quite simple and probably naive but if you want to see it, its available here.

Palindrone video

We created a short video about Palindrone. It’s somewhere between an ‘about this project’ video and an artists video.

I was put together so that it could be shown, as part of a video loop of projects not present at the DEAF 2014 Drones: Presentations and Demonstrations event, part of a day long symposium on Drones to be held at the Biennale on Friday 23rd May.

The piece was installed at the offices of Bethanl Green Ventures for a morning where I shot video and stills in one of the meeting rooms. For the video I used the stills from the installation and used a the audio direct from the piece.

The piece is still a work in development. We are still trying to get in touch with the people who posted the original recordings of the drones in Gaza that we have used as the basis of the piece as we would like to talk to them, and others who have experienced being in such environments more as we develop the piece.

This video is a first opportunity for many to hear what kind of environment we are trying to create / convey in the piece.

palindrone (v1.0) from Mark Simpkins on Vimeo.