I ’m a neurotic rule-follower. Whenever I fly I anguish about possible minor transgressions. Is my hand baggage less than the maximum permitted depth of 23 cm? Is my tube of toothpaste under the regulation 100 ml? Is the transparent bag in which I’ve put it transparent enough? Do I have to take my shoes off now? Then there’s the horror of the automated passport reader with its plastic sheep-dip gates. Is my passport the right way up? Are my feet exactly on the yellow sticky-backed plastic foot shapes on the floor, and does it matter? Is my nose really that big? Finally there’s the barely concealed relief when my features, contorted by anxiety, defeat the AI facial recognition system, and I have to go and smile at AN ACTUAL PERSON (am I allowed to smile here? Are THEY allowed to smile? Can’t we just be PEOPLE at this point?) to see if I am who my passport says I am and can be allowed to go home.
Rules are all around us, and they get inside us. Algorithmic rules determine what our phones show us, and what faces do and do not get recognised by the automated gatekeepers of the nation-state. When we look up from the screen, the rule of ‘keep out’ is everywhere, either explicitly in so many words stuck on a barbed-wire fence, or in the deeply internalised rule that you don’t walk into your neighbours’ flat to inspect the paint colour in their kitchen, even if the door is open.