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A R T I S T ' S A R T I C L E
Existential Technology: Wearable
Computing Is Not the Real Issue!
Steve Mann
s our world becomes more and more glob-
ally connected, the official hierarchies of corporations and
governments become larger and more complicated in scope,
often making the chain of command and accountability more
difficult for an individual person to question. Bureaucracies
spanning several countries provide layers of abstraction and
opacity to accountability for the functionaries involved in such
official machinery. Thus, policy affecting our everyday life is
moved further from our ability to influence, affect or even un-
derstand it. At the same time, the increased use of surveillance
and monitoring technologies makes the individual more vul-
nerable to, and accountable to, these very organizations that
are themselves becoming less accountable to the surveilled
In this paper, I propose the concept of "Existential Tech-
nology" as the technology of self-determination and mastery
over our own destiny, and I provide several examples of
in(ter)ventions (new inventions I filed with the Patent Office
as well as new interventions). In this article I deliberately con-
flate the terms invention and intervention, as I did in my re-
cent exhibit at Gallery TPW, Prior Art: Art of Record [1]. (The
terms "Prior Art" and "Art of Record" are commonly used in
patent law.)
My performances and in(ter)ventions attempt to reflect the
technological hypocrisies of large bureaucratic organizations
on a moralistic (or humanistic) level by
way of firsthand encounters with low-level
"clerks," rather than the more traditional
approach of writing letters to manage-
ment, politicians or the like. By mirror-
ing the structures of bureaucracy and
complexity, I engage in a Reflectionist ap-
proach that I have found is, in many
situations, surprisingly far more success-
ful than writing letters to high-level offi-
cials [2].
Ironically, Existential Technology
serves to empower the individual by dis-
empowering the individual of responsi-
bility for his or her own actions.
Empowerment is achieved through self-
demotion (e.g. assuming a low rank in
the corporate hierarchy of a subservience
services corporation such as the Ex-
istential Technology Corporation).
In the same way that large "covern-
ments" (convergence of multiple
governments corrupted by interests
of global corporations) are em-
powered by being less accountable
for their actions, existential tech-
nologies allow individuals to self-
bureaucratize in order to achieve a
balance of bureaucracy when deal-
ing with government organizations.
Existentialist theory holds that in-
dividuals are entirely free, thus en-
tirely responsible. Clerks and functionaries, however, are not
free, or at least can allege to be not free, and thus, ironically,
are in some ways more free to escape responsibility or ac-
countability for their actions. In the existentialist tradition, my
apparatus of computer-mediated reality (e.g. wearing a com-
puter and living in a computer-generated world) suggests the
absurdity of reality that is so much a part of existentialist think-
ing [3].
Existentialism is not a philosophy but a label for several
widely different revolts against traditional philosophy. The re-
fusal to belong to any school of thought and a marked dissat-
© 2003 ISAST
LEONARDO, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 19­25, 2003
he author presents "Existen-
tial Technology" as a new
category of in(ter)ventions and
as a new theoretical framework
for understanding privacy and
identity. His thesis is twofold:
(1) The unprotected individual
has lost ground to invasive
surveillance technologies and
complex global organizations
that undermine the humanistic
property of the individual; (2) A
way for the individual to be free
and collegially assertive in such
a world is to be "bound to
freedom" by an articulably
external force. To that end, the
author explores empowerment
via self-demotion. He has
founded a federally incorporated
company and appointed himself
to a low enough position to be
bound to freedom within that
company. His performances and
in(ter)ventions over the last 30
years have led him to an under-
standing of such concepts as
individual self-corporatization
and submissivity reciprocity for
the creation of a balance of
Steve Mann (mailroom clerk), University of Toronto,
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering,
Mailstop S.F. B540, 10 King's College Road, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada, M5S 3G4. E-mail:
Fig. 1. Installation of SeatSale: Seating Made Simple, at the San Francisco Art Institute,
2001. (© Steve Mann)
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 19
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isfaction with traditional philosophy as
superficial form the heart of existential-
ism [4]. Thus, in formulating the con-
cept of Existential Technology, I
deliberately try to avoid making it too
clear upon exactly whose shoulders I am
standing, yet in so doing, I follow the (ex-
istentialist) tradition of not following a
The true spirit of much of existential-
ism includes many of the great moral
questions raised in response to the rise
of totalitarian covernment regimes [5].
Ordinarily it is said that "necessity is
the mother of invention." In other words,
there is first an "essence" (abstract idea,
a need); later, invention brings it into "ex-
istence" (reduction to practice). How-
ever, I more often find myself inventing
something from within my own heart,
not to satisfy any specific known need.
Only later, after reduction to practice,
when I begin using the apparatus of my
inventions, do I discover their meaning.
For example, after wearing a computer
for more than 20 years, I am only now be-
ginning to understand what it all means
and why I came up with what at the time
seemed to others to be a totally useless
I refer to these inventions, where their
existence (reduction to practice) pre-
cedes their essence, as "Existential Tech-
I begin by describing some of my "cy-
borg" in(ter)ventions over the past 30
years, during which I invented, designed
and built experimental apparatuses for
various experiments, which were also per-
formances. My experimental subjects
were often drawn from the following
· gambling casino owners
· security guards at gambling casinos
· security guards in department stores
where video surveillance was being
used extensively
· customs officials
· other officials involved in placing our
society under surveillance and who
were fearful of being placed under
surveillance themselves.
I then summarize, within a theoretical
framework, what I have learned from
these in(ter)ventions.
The over-protection of intellectual "prop-
erty" has emerged as a situation that
could threaten scholarly discourse, com-
puter science and fair use.
Take, for example, the "purchase" of a
typical computer or computer program.
What we now often have is a change from
what might once have been a purchase
into a license. I addressed the complex-
ity of this paradigm shift in a recent trav-
eling art installation entitled SeatSale:
Seating Made Simple,
in which a simple ob-
ject, a chair, was connected to a global
computer network with a license man-
ager. Rather than owning the chair, the
user licenses the use of the chair. Sliding
a credit card through a slot in the chair
causes 23 seat spikes to retract, for the
duration of the "Seating LicenseTM" [6]
(Fig. 1).
The complicated array of computers,
servers and other equipment in the 19-
in relay rack ("License Manager," "Li-
cense Server," etc.) is juxtaposed with the
corporate slogan "Seating Made Simple."
Downloading a "Free Seating LicenseTM"
causes the solenoid-activated seat spikes
to retract for a certain time period. The
word "free" is used with jest, in the sense
that although there is zero monetary cost
(the credit card is for "identification pur-
poses only"), the true cost is the loss of
privacy and the loss of freedom to sit with-
out asking for permission from a global
Seating ServicesTM provider.
The point of SeatSale was to show how
the protection of "Intellectual Property"
violates something one might call the
right of "Humanistic Property" [7].
Shortly after SeatSale, I created a perfor-
mance piece called Ouijagree. On Friday,
5 January 2001, at 18:12:34 EST, I
plugged in a new computer for the first
time. Like many new computers, it had
been "tagged" with unsolicited advertis-
ing, including a sticker reading "De-
signed for Microsoft Windows 2000." I
wondered how this corporate tag was any
different from graffiti that kids use to tag
their gang's territory. The computer also
seemed to have been tagged internally
with some unsolicited advertising as well,
because a software message popped up
on the screen indicating Terms and Con-
ditions, which I certainly did not agree
with. (I had not asked for any software
for this computer since I ordinarily use
only open-source software such as GNU
Linux.) Among other things, the Terms
and Conditions forbid the practice of sci-
ence (e.g. trying to understand how a
program works, its underlying opera-
tional principles, etc.). So, having three
students (Ryan V. Fung, Ashish J. Khisti
and Meghal H. Varia) working with me
on the computer, the four of us placed
our hands gently on the mouse, to posi-
tion the cursor wherever it was sum-
moned to go.
contained elements of "Oui"
(French for "yes," as in "yes, we agree")
and of the Ouija board's planchette. The
mouse assumed the role of the latter. On
the abstract level, we might say that the
spirits of the dead are bound by the
Terms and Conditions of the contract,
whereas on the more concrete level,
since no one particular one of us moved
the mouse, it would be difficult to discern
which of us, if any, were to be bound by
these unfair and outrageous Terms and
The Ouijagree performance was a
very simple example of what I call Exis-
tential Technology (technology of self-
determination and mastery over our own
destiny). Ironically, our mastery over our
own destiny (our freedom) came from
our very lack of control over the situation
(i.e. the fact that no one person exercised
decisive voluntary control over the posi-
tion of the planchette mouse).
The Ouija board is an appropriate
metaphor for my "community of cy-
borgs," because it complicates the locus
of control. In the same way that a gov-
ernment's firing squad may include some
unloaded guns, the Ouijagree piece re-
flects a similar diffusion of responsibility.
For example, a large community of on-
line users could remotely operate a
global Ouija board to write a program to
convert Proprietary Data Format (PDF)
documents to plain text for accessibility
to the blind or visually impaired. Adobe
(purveyors of PDF) would then have a
hard time knowing whom to prosecute.
: P
In a mid-1970s performance I connected
my body to electricity to stimulate body
movement. Much like the planchette in
Ouijagree, the My Manager performance
allowed me to corporatize my body. In-
deed, just as a corporation is an abstract
entity, my body became an abstract en-
tity, writhing in movement beyond my
own control.
My Manager also evolved into other
pieces that explored the freedom associ-
ated with covering, restraining and di-
minishing the capabilities of the human
body, using such works as PleaseWait [8]
(Fig. 2) and Sight License (Color Plate A
No. 1), which prevented me from seeing
or hearing anything until a person iden-
Mann, Existential Technology
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 20
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tified themselves by sliding an ID card
through a slot on my head.
PleaseWait bears some similarity to Ed-
uardo Kac's Telepresence Garment [9].
A more recent series of performances,
from the mid-1980s to the present, in-
volved wearing photographic apparatus to
create an incidentalist intervention. In
such apparatus, intentionality can be con-
veniently obscured. For example, my
telematic body in Wearable Wireless Webcam
(a live performance transmitting contin-
uously on the Web from 1994 to 1996) al-
lowed other people (not me) to initiate a
picture-capture process, and in some cases
remotely teleoperate my body. When
asked by security guards or department
store staff if I was taking pictures, I could
respond with uncertainty and consensus
tactics, e.g. I was not knowingly taking pic-
tures of anyone and I would need to check
with my managers (thousands of other
people I did not even know) in order to
determine whether or not pictures were
being remotely acquired [10]. Question-
ing and deconstructing rules becomes a
new art form [11].
In the making of the film Cyberman, a film
crew followed me through various day-to-
day life activities, e.g. my visit to Casino
Niagara on Sunday, 2 July 2000.
For shooting my documentary video
(upon which the above was based) I used
my EyeTap system--eyeglasses that cause
the eye itself to function as if it were a
camera. My wearable apparatus is con-
trolled by a handpiece that looks (and
works) much like a musical instrument.
This "keyer" [12] has various keys that can
be pressed in various combinations to
form various chords. I unplugged my
keyer so that I would have no control over
my EyeTap rig, but before I unplugged it,
I asked my wife to MAYBE press C, so that
I would not know whether or not my eye-
glasses were remembering (or recording
or transmitting) anything. The keyer,
which works like a musical instrument
that I usually start off by playing in the key
of G (Grab), then change to the key of C
(Capture), was now removed so that I had
no way of controlling the function of the
apparatus or of knowing whether or not
I was in the key of C.
Finally, I switched to the key of Lost: I
locked my waist-worn computer rig shut
with a small padlock for which I did not
have a key. (I gave the key to my manager
so that I would not have it.) Thus, I could
not access any of the controls or deter-
mine whether or not the system was in
Capture mode.
Now once I was MAYBE playing in the
key of C, but definitely playing in the key
of Lost, I wandered into the casino, with
the film crew following.
The film crew managed to sneak in all
their film gear (this was not merely video,
but included a large Arriflex motion pic-
ture camera that shot real celluloid film).
The line producer (Alexi Steele) dis-
tracted the guard, while the cameraman
(Rudy) pretended to be close friends
with his assistant, giving her a big hug,
with the camera hidden between them,
as they walked in past the guards. The
sound crew also managed to sneak in past
the guards, and so as I walked in, the crew
quickly assembled inside and followed
me up the escalator. There was a tall es-
calator going up a very grand entrance,
and the crew knew that they could not be
attacked in the confined space of the es-
calator, so that even after detection, any
assailants would need to wait until the
crew got to the top.
The assailants were waiting at the top.
The film crew explained that they were
making a documentary of me (that they
had been following me around, in my
day-to-day life, etc.), but the crew was
asked not to take pictures, so I continued
to wander around and make my own doc-
umentary. Nobody seemed to know that
I might be playing in the key of C.
Later, I left and met up with the film
crew who were waiting outside, having
been prohibited from shooting inside the
Casinos have traditionally been associ-
ated with money-laundering and crime,
so that shooting video within casinos raises
some interesting questions as to what is
prohibited and what is allowed (e.g. the
question as to whether photography is
often prohibited in order to hide evidence
of wrongdoing by the casino owners).
HeartCam was a bra made using two sur-
veillance domes as cups, with a heart
monitor in the left cup to trigger image
capture; the apparatus took pictures
when the heart beat faster (Fig. 3).
HeartCam turned the tables on the "male
gaze" by allowing the female wearer of
the apparatus to capture images; at the
same time it used heart rate as a natural
index to frame rate (i.e. frame rate was
proportional to the wearer's degree of
Because image capture was involun-
tarily controlled by the wearer (heart rate
Mann, Existential Technology
Fig. 2. PleaseWait (1­6 June, 1998): I don't talk to strangers. Therefore you must slide a
government-issued photo ID card through the slot on my head before I can see or hear you
(or acknowledge your existence). If you would like to show me an advertisement, press 3 and
slide your credit card through the slot on my head to purchase my attention (otherwise I
cannot see your billboards or other ads). (© Steve Mann)
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 21
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being an externality not directly under
her intentioned control), the apparatus
provided an incidentalist element [13].
Moreover, if an assailant objected to the
camera, or the possibility of a camera, by
assailing the wearer, whether verbally or
otherwise, the frame rate would increase.
Thus, a potential perpetrator who be-
came upset at the wearer for photo-
graphing him would cause her heart to
beat faster, which would cause her to take
more pictures of him.
Since this feedback loop was beyond
her control, it could be said that the as-
sailant was taking pictures of himself by
agitating her.
: M
Finally, I should emphasize that not all
Existential Technology need be wearable.
Although wearability is closely correlated
to existentiality, there are examples, such
as handcuffs, of wearable technologies
that are not very existential in the con-
text of their ordinary usage. There are
also examples of non-wearable tech-
nologies that are very empowering (in
the context of personal empowerment).
One such example is a briefcase that can
be opened by anyone other than myself
(Fig. 4). Even though I built it, I cannot
open it, because I have replaced the
thumb-operated latches with fingerprint
scanners. A computer inside the case
matches the fingerprints against a data-
base, and I have simply put myself in the
/etc/deny directory.
The Griefcase bears these written in-
structions on its exterior surface:
This briefcase is property of EXISTech
Corp. By extension, it is thus considered
to be part of EXISTech's corporate head-
quarters. Therefore, it requires the same
degree of protection as EXISTech's Cor-
porate Headquarters, namely that it be
protected from undocumented access to
its contents, or to access by strangers.
Accordingly, an audit trail log, with fin-
gerprints of anyone and everyone open-
ing this briefcase, whether for business,
or simply for routine inspection, must be
Routine inspection may include in-
spection by officials, such as law-
enforcement personnel, customs offi-
cials, etc., as well as by private security of-
ficers such as those stationed at the
egress of establishments such as depart-
ment stores, public libraries, and other
places where bags and personal belong-
ings are checked upon exiting or enter-
ing these establishments.
In order to ensure this accountability,
the owner or person carrying this brief-
case cannot open it. Only persons other
than the owner of this briefcase can
open it.
Anyone opening this briefcase,
whether they be law enforcement offi-
cers, customs officials, military police, or
private security forces, must therefore be
fingerprinted, and the fingerprints must
be maintained in a time-stamped ac-
countability archive. Additionally, this
briefcase contains a video surveillance
system to document any inspection of its
contents, in order to ensure that the con-
tents are not compromised by strangers
or corruption.
Compliance with these directives is en-
forced by both policy as well as by using
the latest in keyless lock security tech-
nology. The briefcase uses keyless thumb
latches activated by pressing both
thumbs on the latches simultaneously.
The onboard microprocessor scans the
thumbprints of the person attempting to
open the briefcase. If the fingerprints are
Mann, Existential Technology
Fig. 3. HeartCam (2001) reverses the "male gaze" with a heart-triggered camera system
conspicuously concealed in the left bra cup together with an infrared night vision camera
and computer processor. HeartCam further includes a second high-resolution color camera
in the right cup. (© Steve Mann)
Fig. 4. An official is fingerprinted at an exhibit of the Griefcase, Wednesday, 1 November
2000. (© Steve Mann) A large number of government officials, including Canadian Security
Intelligence Service (CSIS) officials, were fingerprinted with the Griefcase.
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 22
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those of the owner, the briefcase is not
opened. If the fingerprints are those of
any person other than the owner, the fin-
gerprints are transmitted by way of a built
in cellular telephone data communica-
tions system, for remote archiving and
comparison with a database of known
criminals. Assuming no criminal match
is found, the briefcase can be opened by
anyone other than its owner, pending
successful transmission and archiving of
that person's fingerprints to a logfile
mirrored across EXISTech's global net-
work of servers.
As Assistant Mailroom Clerk for EXIS-
Tech Corporation, my job is simply to de-
liver the mail, and I, of course, cannot be
trusted with access to the mail. There-
fore, I cannot open the Griefcase.
This situation creates something I call
Submissivity Reciprocity. That means that
anyone wishing me to submit to a search
of the case must submit to being finger-
Additionally, by handcuffing one of my
hands to the case, and leaving the key in
EXISTech's level 4 laboratory (or inside
the briefcase itself), I am unable even to
try to open the case, because I cannot get
both thumbs onto the scanners at the
same time. Thus, I require the help of the
person wishing the case to be opened
: H
The fundamental problem that the indi-
vidual faces when interacting with the
ever-increasing scope of larger and larger
global bureaucracies is that of imbalance
and asymmetry.
Figure 5 illustrates this imbalance by
way of an individual interacting with a
clerk who either is, or pretends to be,
under the control of a manager who ei-
ther is, or pretends to be, under the con-
trol of a chief technology officer, who
either is, or pretends to be, under the
control of a board of directors, etc. For
example, the CLERK may be protected
by a surveillance camera or by a con-
spicuously covert container for a surveil-
lance camera (such as a large Plexiglas
hemispherical dome of wine-dark opac-
ity). If the INDIVIDUAL complains
about the surveillance or about the po-
tential for surveillance (e.g. by asking
about Plexiglas hemispherical domes of
wine-dark opacity within the establish-
ment), the CLERK either can claim not
to know what is in the domes or can ab-
solve himself or herself from responsi-
bility for the situation by making
reference to the MANAGER. The CLERK
can either claim that the MANAGER in-
stalled the surveillance cameras--or au-
thorized or required the installation of
the cameras--or that the MANAGER de-
cides whether or not images are captured
from these domes. Alternatively, the
CLERK can completely deny knowing
whether or not the domes actually con-
tain cameras. Similarly, the MANAGER is
bound by, or can pretend to be bound by,
conditions from a chief executive officer
(CEO). The CEO is bound by, or pre-
tends to be bound by what the insurance
company requires, or by a board of di-
rectors, denoted BOARD.
A typical example of such a situation is
when an individual attempts to negotiate
with a used-car salesman, and the used-
car salesman might say something like,
"I'd love to give you the car for two thou-
sand dollars; let me check with my man-
ager." The used car salesman then
disappears into a back room, alone, has
some coffee and reads a newspaper for a
few minutes and then comes out and says,
"I'd love to give you the car for two thou-
sand dollars but my manager won't let
me." Although the salesman never talked
to a manager, the salesman has some de-
gree of power over the customer by virtue
of being able to credibly pretend that he
is bound by a higher and unquestionable
authority. A credible, articulable, higher
and unquestionable authority allows rep-
resentatives of organizations to obtain ex-
ternal blame and excuses for what would
otherwise be irrational or disagreeable ac-
Unfortunately, the individual person
does not ordinarily enjoy the same lux-
ury as the clerk and must therefore be-
have more rationally, or risk seeming
irrational, rude or otherwise inappro-
Another example is that of video sur-
veillance. If we visited a friend's house
where video surveillance was used be-
cause that person did not trust us, we
would likely be quite angry. However, we
often accept the use of video surveillance
systems by owners of large organizations,
simply because it is not clear who is re-
sponsible for the installation of such sys-
tems. In my ShootingBack performance
[15] I explored this phenomenon, by ask-
ing clerks at department stores, and the
like, why they had placed me under video
surveillance. Their typical response ex-
ternalized the responsibility to some
higher and unquestionable authority
such as management. When I attempted
to follow the chain of responsibility up-
wards, management indicated the direc-
tive was from head office, and head office
argued video surveillance was just policy,
or for insurance purposes or the like.
Thus, there was no clear accountability
for the situation.
If an individual carried a handheld
video camera around, videotaping clerks,
casino operators, police officers, customs
officials and the like, the individual
might be regarded as strange, rude or
otherwise acting in an inappropriate
The individual could rely on religion
as a manager, by, for example, wearing a
camera contraption as part of a religious
order. Just as religion allows individuals
the right to wear special headwear even
as uniformed employees (e.g. to wrap
their heads in various materials that
would otherwise be regarded as inap-
propriate), a new religion such as the
"personal safety religion" could be in-
Mann, Existential Technology
Fig. 5. An individual vs. a clerk under the control of a manager under control of a CEO
under control of a board. . . . (© Steve Mann)
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 23
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vented that required its members to wear
Thus, religion could be used to play a
role similar to that of the manager for the
individual, but there is the danger that
others (including clerks) may dismiss the
individual as a religious freak. Therefore,
what I invented was another way for the
individual to have excuses for, and to ex-
ternalize blame for, otherwise irrational
or disagreeable actions.
An important aspect of my invention
is for the individual to be able to non-
confrontationally inflict fear of account-
ability, uncertainty or doubt on persons
exerting physical or other coercive force,
or the threat or possibility thereof, upon
the user of the invention. I did this by way
of an incidentalist imaging possibility.
Incidentalist imaging is imaging that
can be made to seem as if it occurs merely
by chance or without intention or calcu-
lation. An incidentalist imaging system
may in fact blatantly capture images (as by
an articulable requirement from a higher
authority to do so), or it may present itself
as a device that could capture images, in a
way that makes it difficult to discern the
intentionality of the use of the invention.
Figure 6 illustrates the situation of a
wearable computer user who is able ei-
ther to be or to pretend to be under the
control of a Safety Management Organi-
zation (SMO).
This figure shows an embodiment of
my WearComp invention, in which the IN-
DIVIDUAL has a credible mechanism to
externalize at least a portion of his or her
image-capture actions to a Safety Man-
agement Organization (SMO). The SMO
provides an articulable basis upon which
to deny free will or self-determination.
The SMO creates a management system,
either real or perceived, that forces the
CLERK out of the normal role, making
necessary a true back channel (RE-
VERSE PATH) from the CLERK to the
MANAGER, which will often also require
a true back channel to the CEO, etc.
Ordinarily there would be no such
back channel, or the back channel would
be reduced, or its existence may even be
denied or obscured by the CLERK. For
example, if an INDIVIDUAL complains
about video surveillance systems in use
by a CLERK, then the CLERK will simply
refer the INDIVIDUAL to management,
and management will likely be available
only during certain limited hours, and
only after extensive delay. Then man-
agement will likely say the directive for
use of surveillance comes from the head
office, and refer the INDIVIDUAL to a
head office, where the INDIVIDUAL will
spend several hours waiting on hold and
calling various telephone numbers, etc.
The head office will then often say that
the surveillance is used because the in-
surance company requires it.
However, if the INDIVIDUAL takes out
his or her own personal handheld cam-
era and photographs the CLERK, indi-
cating that the SMO requires it, a very
rapid back channel (REVERSE PATH)
will emerge. Quite often the MANAGER
will immediately become available, and
the INDIVIDUAL will no longer have to
wait in line or come back on a certain spe-
cial day to talk to the manager. The
CLERK will, in fact, desperately seek a
manager to avoid being photographed.
The matter will therefore rapidly escalate
to the highest available level of authority.
This system thus has a symmetrical ef-
fect in which the individual and manager
either snap out of their respective roles
or a back channel is opened, disrupting
the normally top-down nature of the flow
control from the management to the
CLERK. Thus, the individual human be-
coming a clerk forces the clerk to be-
come an individual human and make
responsible decisions outside the scope
of being just a clerk.
In addition to an SMO, the INDIVID-
UAL can also choose to be bound by (or
to pretend to be bound by) an SMO that
is itself bound by a higher authority such
as an insurance company. Thus, in one
embodiment, the INDIVIDUAL could,
for example, take out a life-insurance pol-
icy that required him to wear a personal
safety device that recorded video at all
Thus, an individual wishing to wear a
video-capture and recording system
merely signs up with a life-insurance com-
pany (e.g. EXISTech Corporation) that
requires him to do so. A small premium
of one cent per year is paid by the indi-
vidual, primarily for the reason of being
bound by the requirement to wear the
device. The life-insurance company pro-
vides the individual with a choice of two
programs, one being one cent a year
wearing a camera, and the other being
two cents a year not wearing the camera.
Thus, the individual wishing to wear a
camera system simply selects the lower
premium and then blames his apparently
irrational actions (constantly wearing a
camera system) on the insurance com-
pany. EXISTech Corporation simply be-
comes the individual's corporationality
(corporate rationality).
Thus, the life-insurance company pro-
vides the individual with a means for ar-
ticulably externalizing his own irrational
actions. Now the individual can say, "I'm
wearing this camera because my manager
(SMO) requires it, and the insurance
company requires the SMO to require
me to wear it, etc."
Preferably, in the experimental appa-
ratus, a PROCEDURALIZER is used to
allow the individual to follow, or to ap-
pear to follow, a prescribed procedure
without appearing to be thinking for
him- or herself. The lack of apparent in-
dividual thought or intentionality allows
the individual to become or seem to be-
come a clerk, which forces the CLERK to
be human in being forced to think and
make decisions for himself or herself.
References and Notes
See <> and the
accompanying curatorial essay at <http://existech.
Surprisingly, using my approach of self-demotion
to confront the lowest level clerks in an establish-
Mann, Existential Technology
Fig. 6. Empowerment through self-demotion. (© Steve Mann) In the same way that clerks
facilitate empowerment of large organizations, I was able to facilitate personal empower-
ment by being a clerk. My self-demotion provided a deliberate self-inflicted dehumanization
of the individual that forced clerks to become human. In summary, I found that humans
being clerks can make clerks be human.
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 24
background image
ment usually brings me face-to-face with their high-
est official much faster than trying to approach the
official myself (as in Michael Moore's Roger and Me).
By demoting myself to a low-level clerk in my own
self-inflicted bureaucracy, I create a situation that the
clerks cannot deal with, so they bring me their man-
agers right away. I do not need to write endless unan-
swered letters and wait for hours on hold. I mirror
the organization upon itself to get them to bring me
their top official very quickly. S. Mann, "`Reflection-
ism' and `Diffusionism': New Tactics for Decon-
structing the Video Surveillance Superhighway,"
Leonardo 31, No. 2, 93­102 (1998); <http://wearcam.
Albert Camus, a writer who worked for the French
resistance movement against the Germans in World
War II and co-edited with Jean-Paul Sartre a news-
paper called Combat, also examined civilization's fail-
ure to properly address many serious moral issues.
See also the many writings by Camus and others on
the "Theater of the Absurd."
Walter Kaufmann, Existentialism from Dostoevsky to
Sartre (World Publishing Company, 1956). See also
See, for example, Viktor Frankl, "From Death Camp
to Existentialism" (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1959).
See <>
for more details on the actual exhibits.
The concept of Humanistic Property is described
in Steve Mann, "Computer Architectures for Pro-
tection of Personal Informatic Property," First Mon-
5, No. 7 (July 2000); <
See <>.
"Instead of adorning or expanding the body, how-
ever, the Telepresence Garment . . . foregrounds the
other meanings of the verb `to wear': To damage, di-
minish, erode, or consume by long or hard use; to
fatigue, weary, or exhaust." Eduardo Kac, "Dialogi-
cal Telepresence Art and Net Ecology," in Ken Gold-
berg, ed., The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and
Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet
MA: MIT Press, 2000) pp. 180­196; <http://www.>.
Wearable Wireless Webcam, as described in
<> and <http://wearcam.
org/art.htm>. Beginning in 1994 (and at that time
only known to my close friends and relatives) the site
exploded in popularity. Eventually, on 22 February
1995, this site was chosen as "Cool Site of the Day"
by what was then the world's most popular Web por-
tal. At the end of the day I accidentally documented
a fire at MIT's East Campus <http://wearcam.
serendipitously creating a new kind of journalism.
Part of my reason for doing this was also to raise is-
sues about privacy and surveillance, which it certainly
did. See, for example, <
htm> (criticism of my using my invention as a "com-
plete substitute for existence").
Artists are beginning to ask questions about rules
and regulations, and even about crime and what
crime is, for example, as articulated by Stephen Wil-
son: "Deconstructing Crime: What's a crime? Who
defines it? What are our prejudices about crime? Are
street crimes worthy of more attention than other
crimes against the community such as poisoning the
Bay or creation of dangerous products that kill or
main.html>; see also <
Julia Scher also provides a critical framework in
which to understand such concepts as what she calls
My recent exhibit on mass decontamination also
looks at similar issues. See <
See <
html> and <
By incidentalism, I mean that there is no ap-
pearance of deliberate action. For example, Heart-
like the other WearCam inventions, creates a
possibility for image capture by mere chance, seem-
ingly without intention, as opposed to the situation
with a traditional camera that needs to be held up to
the eye.
A smaller wallet-sized version of a similar appara-
tus is described at <
See <>,
as well as some of the movies at <http://wearcam.
Manuscript received 26 March 2001.
Steve Mann has lived as a cyborg for 30 years,
creating live street performances. Although his
work has been exhibited at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York, Stedelijk Museum
of Art in Amsterdam, Science Museum in the
U.K. and various other museums around the
world, he believes that the artifacts of the mu-
seums are little more than the residue left over
from a live performance. Therefore, as a satire
of the art gallery, he has constructed a wear-
able art gallery in which anyone can exhibit
work. He now works as an assistant filing
clerk trainee in the self-constructed gallery (as
described in his book
Cyborg: Digital Des-
tiny and Human Possibility in the Age of
the Wearable Computer [Doubleday,
2001]), written with Hal Niedzviecki.
Mann, Existential Technology
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 25
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Leonardo Music Journal Volume 12
The LMJ series is devoted to aesthetic and technical issues in contemporary music and the sonic arts. Cur-
rently under the editorship of Nicolas Collins, each thematic issue features artists/writers from around the
world, representing a wide range of stylistic viewpoints. Each volume includes the latest offering from the
LMJ CD series---an exciting sampling of curious and unusual, but eminently listenable, music. Indepen-
dently curated and annotated by experts and aficionados, these CDs offer a feast for the ear and mind
alike. LMJ is available by subscription from the MIT Press. Visit .
From its naughty lyric content to the pounding physicality of its sound, Pop music is unabashedly driven by
the pleasure principle. "Serious" music, however, is usually perceived as more refined, genteel or---to put it
another way---repressed. And the avant-garde has traditionally found itself in the peculiar position of ac-
companying bohemian, hedonistic lifestyles with a defiantly itchy and uncomfortable music. But are plea-
sure and thoughtful invention necessarily at odds? Can there be no "bump and mind"?
What of the Maryanne Amacher fan who spent 2 hours at The Kitchen, body pressed close to subwoofer?
What of the delight experienced by virtuosi in particular finger-tickling passages? What of the trance-like
state induced by the Perfect Fifth of the tambura, and all its Western imitators? What of the gratifying,
sternum-thudding din of Rhys Chatham's guitar pieces or the heaving, well-oiled muscularity of Gordon
Monahan's swingers?
For nigh on a half-century, journalists have tried to raise Pop out of the gutter and convince us of its intel-
lectual merit, but there has been scant critical attention paid to the feel-good factor of "serious" music. The
time has come to think of libido and Ligeti in the same breath: in LMJ12 we reflect on the role of pleasure
in all genres of music.
This volume includes articles by: Ben Neill, David Byrne, Bob Ostertag, Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha,
Reinhold Friedl, Ricardo Arias, Frieder Butzmann, Gil Weinberg, Dave Soldier, Marina Rosenfeld, Robert
Wilsmore, Bruce Crossman, Amnon Wolman, Yale Evelev, Robert Poss, David Rosenboom.
LMJ12 includes an audio CD curated by Christian Scheib and Susanna Niedermayr: From Gdansk till Dawn:
Contemporary Experimental Music from Eastern Europe.
The CD features works from throughout Eastern Eu-
rope by: Tigrics, Olga Jozef, Wolfram, nicron, EA, Daniel Matej, Borut Savski, Molr Drammaz, The Ab-
stract Monarchy Trio, Arszyn, Vladimir Djambazov, Jeanne Frémaux, Arkona, Vapori del Cuore and Martin
Leonardo Music Journal Vol. 12, including CD, is available from the MIT Press for $30. To order, send
email to <> or visit <>.
Leonardo_36-1_001-098 1/24/03 9:24 AM Page 26

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