The Implications

So what does this all mean? 

The concern between privacy and technology has been around for at least a century. In 1890, soon to be Supreme Court Justice, Louis Bradeis “wrote: ‘rececent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person and for securing to the individual...the right to be ‘let alone’’” (Marshall, 2001). It’s a amazing that something said over 100 years ago could be so applicable to what is going on today.

We have become a surveillance society where panoptic observation serves as a mechanism of control. “In 1971, Jeremy Bentham introduced a new and technologically advanced prison design christened the ‘Panopticon’” (Campbell and Carlson, 2002). A digital rendering of the panoptic prison can be seen at the top of this page. The typical design of the panopticon is a building in the shape of an octagon in which cells would be built along the circumference of the wall (Brignall, 2002.). The primary means of surveillance would be in a central tower from which there would no indication of whether surveillance was occurring or not. Additionally, surveillance could occur in many hierarchal levels, from the prisoners surveying each other, to the guards surveying the prisoners, to the top authority figure surveying the guards and the prisoners, to the public surveying the entire prison.

What does this have with today?

The metaphor of the Internet as a panopticon is increasing being accepted today. (Campbell & Carlson, 2002 & Brignall, 2002). The Internet employs “technologies of information gathering and aggregation in a methodic effort to appraise individuals and populations for various purposes of control” (Campbell & Carlson, 2002, p. 586). For the Campbell and Carlson (2002) the power structure that is confirmed is that of capitalism. The capitalist system depends on information in order to reduce uncertainty and risks and increase profits. This is the idea of capitalist surveillance.


Yet this idea could be applied to all the surveillance that takes place today. The purpose of such surveillance is to create an awareness of conscious and permanent visibility to maintain power structures (Foucault, 1995). This is not only detrimental to society, but the individual. Gumpert & Ducker (2001) identifies the behavior results of surveillance: “behavior and interaction performed for those who institute or manage surveillance technology…the disregard for the pretense that observation is not occurring… an acceptance that surveillance is a cultural and technological norm” (p. 120).


The interesting thing about the panoptic is that it does have a participation factor (Campbell & Carlson, 2002).  Yet this participation is not that simple –it is obviously connected to inequity in the system of power.


But don’t lose hope, or bury yourself in a hole…


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