Apr 19, 2010 0
Today’s reading discussed the concept of philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon,” is an architectural solution for the organization of a group of individuals who must be aware of an omnipresent authority without one truly existing. His solution solved this conundrum through a design where a circular room with cells along the circumference held individuals while the authority figures resided in a central tower that was capable of viewing the entirety of each individuals cell. The catch is that the individuals in the cells never knew when they were being watched which gave the psychological illusion that they were always being watched which served as the omnipresent form of authority. The panopticon could be used in prisons, schools, workplaces, and a number of other hierarchical settings to ensure cooperation and other social values that Bentham espoused. In our reading, Michel Foucault tried to equate the Internet to a form of panopticon.
However, I found this argument to be truly contrived, finding only vague similarities between the two. Foremost among the differences, is the structure of the two. The panopticon relies on a socially, or legally, established authority which is respected by the “prisoners,” because of high potential of recourse by the authority. While the Internet does have some authorities, they are completely unable to exert their influence on the majority of Internet users. This distinctions becomes even more sharp when you consider that the only reason the psychology of the panopticon is effective is because the “prisoners” have the illusion that they are being watched. Internet users do not restrict their actions unless this authority is perceived as being present. Many users find ways to conceal their internet usage or believe that they do in the case of a present authority. Without this authority, or with the belief that they have evaded it, the psychological burden of being monitored and punished breaks is lifted and the panopticon fails. I find a commonality among the Internet and the panopticon in that people may be monitored at any time without their knowledge. However, the purpose of the panopticon is show authority and dissuade action and for this reason Internet monitors cannot do so in a panoptical way.