Bentham’s Panopticon operated under the ethos that the subjugated were always seen but could never see, and the oppressors always seeing, but never seen. This concept for a prison was intended for the prisoners to internalise the constant sense of being seen, and modify their behaviour accordingly, thereby becoming their own captors.
Sure, I hear you cry, almost every other day someone brings up Bentham’s Panopticon ―at the bus stop, in the smoking area of my local Spoons ―but tell me something I haven’t hashed out over a jug of Woo Woo. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, “Compromised free will via mental torture tactics? Get on it.” (Not necessarily verbatim.)
As the generation for whom Bebo, MySpace and Facebook came in with the puberty hormones, increasingly the new media seem to have changed the way we interact, even think. Everyone knows at least one Status Updater – the kind of rampant attention seeker who thinks anyone shives a git that they’re having a night in with the girls. Apologies if you’re guilty of this kind of blatant hash-tag promiscuity but, in the nicest possible way, you are literally impeding the progress of evolution. Smiley face.
In a terrifyingly Orwellian twist of technology, unless you opt-out the iPhone now ‘signs you in’ to a location on Facebook for all the world’s stalking pleasure―including your questionable colleague who counts Call of Duty as social interaction and green Rizlas as one of his five a day. A friend recently found herself engaged in a one man game of hide-and-seek in a department store when her iPhone showed her someone she’d rather not run into wandering around the same shop. What we’ve essentially done here is created a Marauders’ Map for muggles. Well bloody done, JK. Is this what you wanted? Is it??
Now, I hate to resort to hyperbole (I fuckin’ don’t) but is it possible that we’ve internalised the sense of being seen to such a degree that we no longer experience life immediately, but rather as a future status or Facebook photo album? Has Facebook become a kind of Panopticon, holding us entrapped by the feeling that we are constantly watched? In the knowledge that attempting to leave could be social suicide, we’re in danger of living a life of pure signification where everyone’s a writer, the photos become more important than the holiday and we’re unable to ever abandon ourselves fully to experience.
Obviously, unlike Bentham’s model, it’s the prisoners who are watching each other, so that’s really where my analogy breaks down, but if I’ve learnt one thing in life it’s this: when it comes to drawing tenuous connections between 18th century political philosophers and social networking sites…you can’t win ‘em all.