The Digital Panopticon: Foucault and Internet Privacy Essay

The Digital Panopticon: Foucault and Internet Privacy Essay

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The Digital Panopticon: Foucault and Internet Privacy
In 1977, Michel Foucault wrote in Discipline and Punish about the disciplinary mechanisms of
constant and invisible surveillance in part through an analysis of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon. The
panopticon was envisioned as a circular prison, in the centre of which resided a guard tower. Along the
circumference, individuals resided in cells that were visible to the guard tower but invisible to each other.
Importantly, this guard tower was backlit, and therefore prisoners were unable to tell for certain whether
they were being watched or not at any given moment. Bentham championed the merits of the
panopticon, conceiving it as a grand tool of social progress wherein distractions would be limited and
productivity whether of the student, the worker, or the prisoner would flourish. Critically, Foucault
considered the panopticon a "compact model of the disciplinary mechanism" whereby people learn to
regulate themselves under the tyranny of total visibility. While the panopticon has 1 largely failed to
materialize architecturally, online surveillance has similarly facilitated the deterioration of privacy and the
normalizing individuation of the public by means of perpetual and invisible examination. I argue that the
digital age has ensconced us in a "digital panopticism" whereby our purchases, behaviors, thoughts,
questions, relations, images our very identities are under perpetual monitor and that such monitoring
functions as a "disciplinary mechanism" as elucidated by Foucault forty years prior.
To explain how pervasive technological surveillance in the present moment functions as a
disciplinary mechanism a
noncorporeal panopticon, if you will it
is important to fi...


... middle of paper ...


...genous categories of people based on certain aggregate inputs.
When Jeremy Bentham conceived of the panopticon, he was considering its social value through
just such a capitalist framework: the framework of productivity. Yet productivity is not the sole marker
of a flourishing society; incessant production subordinates our more human desires for privacy as well as
camaraderie and recognition, replacing them instead with pale commodified substitutes. As privacy is
increasingly undermined and disregarded as a valuable human experience, we risk being blinded by the
same shortsidedness
that seduced Bentham: the seduction of accelerated cycles of production and
consumption. It is worth asking ourselves what is sacrificed in the productive thirst of the modern
panopticon, and how we can envision alternatives to our increasingly global architecture of surveillance

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