The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

I went a bit more philosophical with this take for three reasons:

1. I’d like for people to be familiar with the concept of Panopticon, which has always intrigued me.

2. We all have social media one way or another, and we visit several websites per day, leaving possible thumbnails in each place we visit on the internet. You are traceable by the websites you frequent, and also by either bank databases, or any other institution you might be affiliated through electronic systems.

3. Pretty much in anywhere you go these days there’s a camera somewhere, and even if there isn’t, everyone carries one so any event might be recorded at any point.

Now, how does the internet and the Surveillance Culture fit within the Panopticon concept?

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture


Social theorist Jeremy Bentham came with the idea of Panopticon in the 18th century. The Panopticon is an institutional building, which allow all inmates to be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.

Now, the trick in this concept is the following:

Physically, the watchman cannot observe all cells and all places at once, but the Bentham designs suggests that the inmates don’t know when or how they are being watched, so subconsciously they’ll act as if they’re being watched at all times. The effect here is that the inmates are being instantly and constantly controlled at all times.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

You can read more about the Panopticon here. This is what Jeremy Bentham said about his designs:

"Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigorated—instruction diffused—public burthens lightened—Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock—the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws not cut, but untied—all by a simple idea in Architecture!—Thus much I ventured to say on laying down the pen—and thus much I should perhaps have said on taking it up, if at that early period I had seen the whole of the way before me.

A new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example: and that, to a degree equally without example, secured by whoever chooses to have it so, against abuse.—Such is the engine: such the work that may be done with it. How far the expectations thus held out have been fulfilled, the reader will decide."

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

Surveillance Culture

Our modern society is unquestionably run under a Surveillance Culture. We are still not in a position where you can be traced anywhere-anytime, but we are pretty close to that. People who live in the poorest parts of third world countries, or people who live in rural areas are probably the ones who aren’t as affected by the Surveillance Culture we live in under.

Important information from each individual is handled by banks and such, but let us not go that far, this is not about conspiracy theories or being paranoid.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

With that said, probably the most important event of how influential and how affecting to our lives is the Surveillance Culture, is the Edward Snowden incident. An ex-CIA programmer who published classified documents of the NSA. His leaks proved that there are global surveillance programs running right now, and that telecommunication companies (phone providers, internet providers, etc) are in cooperation with governments to share information.

Now, if you didn’t know any of that, you’re probably living under a rock, but I think it’s common knowledge we can be watched at any time. Heck, your laptop webcam could be monitored at this given moment because of some odd porn website, or music download site you tried to access, or download from.

(Just a very superficial example of that):

Now, setting aside the fact that governments handle private information on every citizen, and that you might be vulnerable to being either hacked or spied on, how do we contribute to the Surveillance Culture?

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

Everyone who has social media can be easily traceable and is easily identifiable. Face recognition and auto-tagging in photos and videos may be just the beginning of a very immediate system of identification. That’s why it’s important to keep your social media uploads at minimum.

Try not to share lots of information about your family, or about yourself; Habits, preferences, things you dislike and every bit of detail about you and the people who surround you. Most importantly, try to keep at minimum the places you frequent and posting about your current location. Be very discrete, modest and sporadic when it comes to what you share on the websites you’re signed into.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

Snapchat, I think, is the perfect example of surveillance. Hardly, there’s any violation of privacy you posting whatever you’re doing throughout the day, and others doing so, so you can constantly watch what others are also posting throughout the day. It’s pretty much by volition we chose to share, even our most intimate moments with our families or our significant others. Well, assuming people aren't recording others without consent, which we know it isn't the case all times.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

I was using private transportation one day, and I sit behind a couple of high school students. Turns out an old guy gets in the bus and starts preaching about the Bible and stuff. The kid in front of me started recording the guy preaching, and I could slightly look over its shoulder him typing something and making silly faces while the guy was being recorded.

Now, it’s obvious the kid was mocking the random preacher, but what really upset me was that I noticed I was also visible in the video sitting down alongside the guy who was standing up in the middle of the bus preaching. I realized this, and because of my old fuck spirit I went and told the kid:

“Excuse me, I realized you were recording and I noticed I appeared in your video. I’d appreciate if you didn’t publish that”.

I was reaching my stop already and the kid said nothing to me. I don’t know if the kid published the video or not, but I was just trying to make him aware of it, and even though it wouldn’t really bother me if it was published, I still wouldn’t appreciate appearing in his mockery video even if I wasn't doing anything.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

I used to run from cameras when people were recording, but now how do I know when someone is recording anything at any time with their smartphones. Some of my friends have recorded me while hanging out, or simply doing nonsense, and even though I know they think it's harmless, it does bother me a bit and quite frankly kind of makes me paranoid. You can be recorded at any time now, and be published in just a few seconds after being recorded regardless of any context, and without consent.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

That is how we contribute to live under the Surveillance Culture. Every revenge video published about ex boyfriends/girlfriends, every nude pic you share about someone else (specially pictures that girls confide to guys), every time you forward a terrible accident, a shocking video of a murder or anything of the sorts, and just in general every time you help make viral to lower or big scale any sort of scandal or gossip about someone else you are already contributing to the Surveillance Culture.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

Technology has built a society that has moved the concept of Panopticon, into much more than a physical one, but a digital one.

Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard egressed and Ph.D in social psychology wrote a book called In the "Age of the Smart Machine", in which, even though I personally haven’t read it, it has come to my attention that she compares the Panopticon to how computers are used to track behaviors, efficiency, etc, on workers, while workers are not able to tell they are being monitored/spied on.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

Gertrude Himmelfarb, an American historian called the concept of Panopticon: “A tool of oppression and social control”.

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher coined the term “panopticism” and stated: “The Panopticon is an ideal architectural figure of modern disciplinary power. The Panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power, where no bars, chains, and heavy locks are necessary for domination any more.”

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture

If it hasn’t rung any bells, you’ll realize by now we live in a society ran under “panopticism”. Within a political structure, and enforced by a social structure -- ourselves.

The Panopticon: Surveillance Culture
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  • ClauseViter
    Bro excellent.

    Our current intellectual attitudes retain the mindset that unstructured behavior results in evil primarily because people will exploit each other if not kept in check. Ofcourse this baseline depiction of human behavior was made popular by prominent thinkers such as Hobbes who assumed the natural state to be a "warring" state of dysfunction and brutality.

    Ha. How absurd. Especially considering our economic model depends the exploitation of others for some conceptual agreed upon worth in money. On the opposite spectrum it was enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau that suggested precisely the opposite, pre civilization man had no notion of the concept of ownership, particularly land ownership and had no need to perpetuate the continual slavery that is 'work' in the modern sense.

    But I've already rambled to far. You may not even reply. People don't even consider these things, they simply continue their habitually pragmatic lifestyles until they die, satisfied with the grotesque semblance of freedom they r afforded today.

    Is this still revelant?
    • Did you actually wrote that? VERY interesting thought...

      "pre civilization man had no notion of the concept of ownership, particularly land ownership and had no need to perpetuate the continual slavery that is 'work' in the modern sense."

      Money, and working for it may be the biggest illusion, but it's only one of them. There are many practices and aspects that are fully ingrained in society and in our heads, that to talk about it we could go on all day. In case you haven't, you should watch this:

      Very fascinating to realize everything is a construct, and that we are and have been following a process of subversion.

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • Other_Tommy_Wiseau
    I really don't see a problem with it as long as it's used correctly. Like, I hate being watched, but let's be real. There are 325 million humans in America. 99.999% of what I'm doing anything illegal. What are they going to do, find out I eat buggers and pick my butthole? And the odds of the national government picking me out out of 325 million or 3.07692308x10^-9... Or so insignificant, you literally have a chance of being killed by a shark while simultaneously being crushed by a vending machine... That's not an exaggeration, by the way

    Now, I do understand the problem with tolitarianism and specifically why I mentioned it at the national level. It's totally different than your local police which have less population to handle and way more tactile. The way the NSA and shit like that works have very generic and specific software that only picks up words and phrases in a specific pattern and frequency. Like it or not, the government needs a way to prevent terrorist attacks. The amount of terrorist attacks that have been foiled using current tactics is nauseating and if we knew the real figures, y'all would be scared shitless
    • I see where you're coming from, and I understand. You aren't doing anything illegal, other than the few songs you have downloaded for free here and there, I assume. You have nothing to hide, so there's nothing to worry about. Simple logic, that's completely fine. But there's the thing:

      Setting aside the fact that governments handle information about you, know they also handle information about your family. Information withheld that could be used against you in the future for not compliance about an "x". Ok, that thought is a little extreme so we can move onto something else that doesn't involve totalitarianism.

    • Lets say you have a daughter, a girlfriend or something and she's being spied on right now. It's completely possible. Anyone could target anyone else and spy on them, and they don't need to be top profile hackers to do that. Imagine someone holds a grudge about you and decides to spy you, or somehow a RAT. exe file is running right now through your computer, spying on your bank accounts, social media accounts, etc.

      The point is whether you don't have anything to hide is not the problem here, is the vulnerability everyone has to be exposed at any given moment. The fact there isn't objectively any sort of privacy anymore is very troubling, and should concern anyone. It's even more troubling that people's discretion has been thrown out the window, too. So everyone actually encourages to make things viral, and to contribute to humiliation, and to expose morbidity in general to even younger people.

    • RedHood7

      "As long as it is used correctly"
      Why not let democracy fuck itself and live in a dictatorship already? Should be fun, right? Oh, yeah... You dont get the problem with totalitarism. You dont get it at all.

    • Show All
  • NedfromtheNed
    What are you doing here?

    This is to educational and to lengthy of a read for this place. Did you forget that this website is a product geared towards millennials?

    In other words, your take is to good, your ideas to righteous, for this place. Write this somewhere else.

    • lol I take that as a compliment. Eh, there's always one or two readers at least.

  • anonman32
    Go on panooticlick. com its a website of the electronic frontier foundation. The website shows you how tracable your browser is. The EFF teaches you how to handle your computer and safeguard your information.
    • Cool. I'll definitely give it a look. Thanks man.

  • Borginborg
    First off prisons have been set up like this for years. Second with the ease of using and quick access to hacking tools these days many people are being filmed without knowledge. Did you know that your beloved apple phone can be hacked in 10 minutes just by the information apple prints on the back of the phone and knowing the phone number. (In fact it is easier than androids in that you physically have to get ahold of an Android in order to hack it). Once a phone has been hacked it gives instant access to the camera and or microphone for surveillance. Likewise your home router. If you never changed the router login then chances are someone can/is hacking it. Most routers are delivered and set up using a common login password combination lists of which are readily available online. The list goes on and on.. Big brother is watching!
    • Prisons, schools, hospitals, offices... The Panopticon, as Jeremy Betham stated at some point, can be applied to anything even though it was designed for prisons.

      Definitely, we're all vulnerable to it. Society is ran under panopticism almost anywhere you go, and can be watched/recorded at any time if you have the technology.

  • Fathoms77
    I'm old enough to remember the pre-Surveillance Culture world and trust me... I miss it.
    • I'm old enough to know what was playing atari and nintendo consoles, and my dad using beeper service instead of a cellphone. I was introduced to computers much later, with shitty internet speed that was connected straight to the phone line. Google didn't even existed lol you had to know all addresses by memory, just as you had to know all phone numbers my memory.

      ^^Despite all of that, I'd very much prefer living during that time than now.

  • NateBenck
    Ah things like this can get you a little paranoid. Well, I've been hiding my PC Camera and my Phone camera for years. I also avoid taking any unnecessary pictures or videos. or even appearing in them. People around me think i'm just crazy and paranoid even though i'm not doing anything wrong. I'll admit it, i'm a little too OCD about it. But it's just me. It can be a very normal thing but I just go overboard and I hate it. It's kind of funny but this panopticon thing can be surpassed by you not giving a crap. for real. It's the easiest way. And let's not forget that there are many people around the world so you're not the only one being watched. (that is if you were watched)
    • I agree and can defintely sympathize with how you act on it.

      I remeber that an FBI director if I'm not mistaken, advice for every person to cover their webcam every time before browsing the internet. Funnily enough, he said this in a press conference after a student asked him something about panopticism. I'm going to start adopting this practice, actually.

  • Alex88F
    strong intelligent post
    glad to have someone knocking some good sense in the kids skulls these days
    • Definitely. Some of us had to get used to all this, so we can tell the difference between real privacy and lack of. Kids now grow up ib an enviroment of surveillance not even knowing it. Thanks for reading!

    • Alex88F

      really true. and hearbreaking for certain things
      by the way im glad i read it :)
      cheers man!

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