The New Norm

In his writing on Panopticism, Michel Foucault opens up with describing the architectural workings of the 18th-century disciplinary structure. Foucault describes it as an “annular building” with an observation tower in the center, with every cell windowed facing the tower (Foucault 18).

An idea of the panopticon is to instill a norm of self-surveillance – should you find yourself in one of these individual cells you have no clue who is in the tower at any given moment. You cannot yourself see inside the tower, but they can see you. This results in the act of self-surveillance.

How exactly does that tie into technology? Technology is the panopticon of our era, and it has made the act of self-surveillance the norm. Whether it be thinking about the Patriot Act or the FBI surveillance memes or even being aware of the relative ease of someone hacking into a device and monitoring your every move, we have become so accustomed to the probability that someone else is watching that we find ourselves in our own cell of a technological panopticon.

This was something that was on my mind when rereading Panopticism and thinking in particular about technology. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I cannot decide that for you. As usual, I am simply laying down the rules of the road and some definitions – you do with it what you will. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and I will see you all next week.

4 thoughts on “The New Norm

  1. I find it interesting that you linked the panopticon to technology. It is true that in both, people are being surveyed but have no idea if they are being watched at any given moment. However not many people think that they will be watched and tracked through their devices, and why should they? There is no threat of a physical human being like there is at the panopticon, just a vague possibility of being watched. Nobody is too worried about being watched, because, as you said, it has become a social norm. Is it all self inflicted, in the sense that we signed up for this and agreed to any and all surveillance? I would say that it is, but many would argue that it is not. However the fact of the matter is that we all signed up and agreed to terms and conditions, the fine print that many people look over. So it never ceases to shock me that people are surprised that their posts, likes, and replies are being tracked to target specific ads towards them. You could have agreed to it because you did not read the terms and conditions. Nobody is forcing you to agree to them or even have electronics, that choice was all your own.

  2. As I stated in #alternativediscuss, powerful surveillance technology poses a threat to the fundamental right of privacy. In modern reality, there is the view that we all need to sacrifice some liberty to ensure our safety. However, liberty and safety are not balanced. This is ‘dangerous’ as it give the government the power to deprive fundamental human rights such as privacy. Unfortunately, the government will always make choices that favor its power, leaving our safety and liberty vulnerable. Just the thought of someone watching and knowing everything you do on your device makes you feel uneasy. This influence suppresses your freedom of further thought. In my example of Batman and Lucius Fox talking about ‘brother eye’, Batman is pleased with the outcome of his invention. However, Fox does not agree with Batman’s reasoning. Fox knows the benefits it provides Batman in his crusade of his for justice but explains how it is immoral. “This is wrong.” Fox ultimately tells Batman that he will resign because he cannot be in a partnership which holds a surveillance system spying over 30 million people. What is your take on this, Charles? I’m interested on what you have to say about this. Stay hydrated and don’t forget to go walk your lizard

  3. Interesting insight, now that you mention it, I completely agree. I think that the technology that has been developed over the years is in itself a panopticon. However, I think that people can be the panopticon as well. We create these items in order to be able to watch others. So in a sense, society is the panopticon and technology is there to aid the discipline process.

  4. I find it interesting how you phrased “our own cell of a technological panopticon.” The quote carries so much juxtaposition. When we see “own,” we tend to find freedom intertwined within it. When a person owns something, they have autonomy over it. They can control it. It is their property because it is theirs. However, the word “cell” connotates a type of imprisonment. Inmates live in cells. Cells are in penitentiaries where people with no freedom live. No one who lives in a cell has property because they are property. They belong to the state. To me, I saw that the words “own” and “cell” as opposites, but they operate to make a new meaning because I interpreted the sentence as saying that people can have ownership over their cell. In other words, they can own the surveillance that is used against them. Is real freedom being allowed to have ownership and autonomy over the mechanisms of surveillance that are used to oppress you or is real freedom not being surveilled at all?

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