The social media panopticon
May 18, 2017 § 30 Comments
Jeremy Bentham famously invented the idea of the panopticon, initially as a way to manage prisoners in a maximally efficient way. The architecture of the panopticon enabled a single guard to monitor a large number of prisoners simultaneously.
Being a modernist, Bentham started seeing the benefits of universal surveillance in all sorts of other areas of life. (He was also in favor of animal rights, a right to sodomy, etc — in the 1700’s, mind you). After all, as long as you aren’t doing something that offends the gods why should you care that you are constantly being watched? This is obviously an efficient way to design a civil society with minimal violence; a society which does not require a lot of messy exercise of easily-abused authority, authority which in any case just falls to certain people by accident of birth. Nothing about universal surveillance in itself interferes with a person’s freedom.
Bentham’s vision has taken a long time to materialize because (as it turns out) most people don’t really like living under the constant surveillance of prison guards; guards who just might view them as less than fully human, possibly tomorrow if not in the Current Year.
But Mark Zuckerberg found a way to convince a billion people to voluntarily enter the panopticon. He baited the trap with an irresistible siren: a perpetual High School reunion, pictures of grandkids, and cat videos.