Haptic Control

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= a form of power in the Society of Control, i.e. tactile control, by manipulating the senses directly


From William Bogard [1] :

"One of these supple technologies of enclosure is called haptics, from the Greek for the ability to make contact with or to fasten. Unlike information control that requires a confined population (discipline), or a dispersed population under passive surveillance (such as CCTV), haptic technologies respond to the active body and supply it with tactile feedback. The program of haptics is simple: simulate the body's feelings of manipulating objects in the real world (data-gloves that react with vibratory stimuli to users' handling of simulated objects are a classic example of a haptic technology). Haptic control is one of many "coils of a serpent" forming on the horizon of control societies, intensive information networked in ways to manage and counter the body's most basic capacity to resist, its sensitivity to its own power.

If the body's optical space was a target of disciplinary societies, haptic control is about its tactile space. Unlike vision, which is concentrated in the head, tactility is distributed throughout the body (including the eyes), in sheets of varying intensities. It is not one of the five senses (touch), but a capacity of all of them, a quality of openness or sensitivity. Tactility involves not only so-called extero-perception (perception directed outward to the external environment), but also proprioception, the body's internal sense of itself and its required efforts to move or resist movement. It belongs to the body's complex web of nerves and muscles and joints. Like Taussig said of the nervous system, tactility is that "which passes through us and makes us what we are." It is, quite literally, an affect that opens or closes us to becoming.

Haptic technologies are not new -- body armor and clothing control the tactile space between the body and its environment. Today, like everything else, these controls are being informated. In network society, Borges's haptic world in which "everything touches everything" becomes an engineering project to produce digital environments that have exactly the "right feel" and can command the body directly.

The common view of haptic control is that it simulates the sense of touch, but the larger goal is to create "immersive" environments that synthesize visual, auditory, and olfactory messages with tactile or vibratory information, to create so-called "multi-media" interfaces that produce "complete" sensory experiences. The simulation of touch is simply one step in a project governed by an integrative model of sensitivity rather than a traditional, oppositional model of the senses. In the haptic model, the eye may have tactile as well as optical functions, as a surface of pressure or heat, for instance. It is very difficult, some say impossible, to construct complete and convincing tactile interfaces -- virtual reality systems simulate visual or sound information passably well, but the problems of engineering virtual objects to feel real are of another order of magnitude altogether. Object-images on computer screens can look real, but their texture and weight are hard to capture with existing technology. Incomparably more difficult is reproducing a complete haptic space, which includes the felt movements over time of a subject in relation to his or her manipulation of virtual objects. Research, however, is moving in this direction." (http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=581)


Police and Crowd Control

"Generally, the problem for the police is how to exercise control over crowds, over dense and moving populations, how to confine them or otherwise keep them orderly.[33] Foucault, of course, famously writes about the roles of hierarchical observation and examination in this process. But control within the crowd, as a function of its own self-organization, is of another nature altogether. The affects that govern the internal organizations of crowds are haptic, tactile and immersive. Police technologies for controlling crowd affects are evolving in network societies. No longer content with passive surveillance (cameras, listening devices), the new technologies seek to control crowd affect directly, by informating tactile qualities of crowds -- texture, concentration, pressure, attraction and repulsion -- generating those qualities through technical means.

Tactile networks are the technical horizon of crowd control. This I take to be the whole logic of haptics understood as an information control technology and means of capitalist accumulation. The dream of police technologies is to harness the tactility of crowds and place it at the disposal of the new information economy. This demands not just control of visible space, but parametric control using tactile feedback." (http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=581)


How Haptic Control is linked to Dividuation

"There is a complex relation between haptic control and what Deleuze calls "dividuation," the logic of control societies. Individuation, the logic of disciplinary societies, is external division of a mass into distinct, numbered (or signed) entities. Dividuation, on the other hand, is the internal division of entities into measurable and adjustable parameters, in the way, for instance, a digital sound sample is divided into separate parameters of tone, pitch, or velocity. For audio engineers, these parameters, or "modules," can be independently adjusted (some fixed while others are varied) and modified in real time to flow within certain limits (e.g., if the velocity setting is too high or low, the sound breaks up or becomes inaudible, etc.). Each sound, in turn, can be divided into smaller samples that are also subject to parametric control, and so on. Think of your body composed of samples of vibrational information like these sounds, whose parameters can be measured and used to generate tactile feedback (e.g., the pressure you exert in grasping a virtual object fed back to you as the felt hardness of the object). Haptic controls adjust this information to vary within pre-set thresholds.

Deleuze writes that dividuals in control societies are not shaped by molds, which produce distinct individuals, but consist of modulations of coded information. That is, dividuation involves something like a "moving form" of coding (continuous decoding and recoding). A mold, Deleuze writes, is a distinct casting, whereas a modulation is like a "self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point." If individuation produces units that have a distinct casting, dividuation produces the flexible modules of control (the parameters) through which they pass. As an economic process, dividuation serves the demands of postmodern global Capital for flexible modes of production and consumption. When Amazon.com recommends books for customers to buy based on information stored in its database, or when global corporations abandon Taylorist forms of control based on the individuation of confined bodies in favor of outsourcing and informated production strategies, they use the tools of dividuation, i.e., parametric controls, internal adjustments of sampled information, continuous modulation."

More about: Dividuation