The London School of Economics recently held an interesting discussion with the author Stephen Graham. Stephen has recently written ‘Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism‘. In the talk Stephen talks about a wide range of subjects, about how the continued blurring of the lines between police and military, especially in the realms of tactics and technology (for example drones). About how the front-lines in war have increasingly come to be the urban centres; think Gaza, Baghdad or Grozny. He talked about what is driving this trend; the obsession of military thinkers with techo-militarist ideas from cyberpunk to mechwarriors. The vision that many in the military thinktanks have with the city as a pathological space that needs ‘controlling’ or ‘pacifying’ rather than as a space where civilians live.
Now I need to state that I’ve not read the book, only listened to the talk so please temper my comments around that point. While there does seem to be a militarising of police forces around the world as the tools and ideas of the military are sold into civilian use, there is also the flow of technology the other way. The Internet is the classic example of a technology designed to ensure a missile control network survives a nuclear strike now used to share lolcats, or the movement of GPS from military into civilian use. Another point I’m not 100% is the repeated reference to ‘video games’ as some sort of adjunct to the military-industrial complex. Yes there are games used by and for the military – lots of them, but so are TV, film and radio.
The recent growth of games has been in the social gaming sector with games such as Farmville – which I can’t see as war propaganda. Stephen talked about how controller for military systems are being designed to ‘look like video game controllers’ implying a propaganda style link – but it made me wonder what is the causal link? My guess is that the design of video game controller design is much more advanced, has more money put into it and has much more user feedback that military systems, so yes one is copying the other but for ergonomic reasons.
Still, those points aside it is an interesting talk and worth a listen and I might try to get hold of a copy of the book…