A Number Station in a Moving Forest

This is a quick post to sketch where I’m hoping to push my ‘Moving Forest’ centred explorations towards.

Several stories around social media this year piqued my attention, each one of them was concerned with how the US military was taking an active role in seeking to assert influence over the realm of social sharing. First we had news of military commissioned ‘sock puppet’ software: wherein each military staff could operate 10 authentic online pseudo-identities.Then later in the year word that the CIA actively monitors twitter sentiment and DARPA are prepared to shell out $42 million to acquire a memetracker of considerably more sophistication than existing sentiment analysis programs

All this reporting on social listening being in vogue with ‘the Man’ set my paranormal senses twitching and my insatiable need to juxtapose arose in me.

You see I have recently downloaded this wonderful collection of Number Station recordings care of the Conet Project. A quick summary on number stations.

Numbers stations generally broadcast artificially generated voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a spelling alphabet), tunes or Morse code. They are in a wide variety of languages and the voices are usually female, although sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used

The accepted conspiratorial interpretation of these short wave radio broadcasts is that they were used to relay information to government spies. No one truly knows and they stand proud as an excellent acoustic space for apopheniacs to run amok.

I see number stations as an echo of a previously dominant way by which governements asserted power, accessed information and fomented insurrection: that is espionage. I don’t doubt for one moment that espionage is still in rude health today but there are different channels by which those three aims can be explored. Back in the era of cold war, short wave radio enthusiasts could happen across these recordings and project their own ideas on to them for above all else they remained inscrutable by dint of their enigmatic encoding.

With social listening on steroids the same process seems destined to play out but in an inverted fashion. Now a sphere by which insurrection can be hindered or manipulated is easily accessed but truly understanding what is happening may demand perceiving patterns in a glut of information. The most astute algorithm in play is not the one which deals best in cryptography but the one which determines how indicative patterns played out in cyberspace are to the social unrest IRL.

I want to use this as a departure point only: I have of late grown tired of my own knee-jerk urge to juxtapose when attempting to do something creative so I am determined this shall not be the end endeavour. Hopefully this speculation (once completed) will lead me to more interesting directions.

~ by Stephen Fortune on January 3, 2012.

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