Rejecting Privacy; Embracing the Panopticon

Why Should You Care if You Are Being Watched?

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. _ Wiki Panopticon

The panopticon serves as a metaphor for the modern surveillance society. How should we feel about this?

Who Watches the Watchers?

Who Watches the Watchers?

Image: Wikipedia Panopticon

Respected author and futurist Kevin Kelly suggests that we stop worrying about being watched, and embrace the surveillance society. How can it work without turning into an Orwellian dystopia?

… A massively surveilled world is not a world I would design (or even desire), but massive surveillance is coming either way because that is the bias of digital technology…

a world of total surveillance seems inevitable… How would an individual maintain the boundaries of self when their every thought, utterance, and action is captured, archived, analyzed, and eventually anticipated by others?…

For eons humans have lived in tribes and clans where every act was open and visible and there were no secrets. We evolved with constant co-monitoring… cities have “civilized” us with modern habits such as privacy. It is no coincidence that the glories of progress in the past 300 years parallel the emergence of the private self and challenges to the authority of society. Civilization is a mechanism to nudge us out of old habits. There would be no modernity without a triumphant self.

… The remedy for over-secrecy is to think in terms of coveillance, so that we make tracking and monitoring as symmetrical — and transparent — as possible. That way the monitoring can be regulated, mistakes appealed and corrected, specific boundaries set and enforced…

In this version of surveillance — a transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going. They will pay you to track yourself. Citizens film the cops, while the cops film the citizens. The business of monitoring (including those who monitor other monitors) will be a big business. The flow of money, too, is made more visible even as it gets more complex. — Kevin Kelly in Wired

How would one design a “panopticon” where everyone is watching everyone else — including government and institutional watchers? Advanced virtual reality using real time “mirror world” data structures would be an interim goal. Using 3-D VR goggles, you could travel virtually, in real time, to any developed area on the planet — and watch real people going about their business.

Kelly seems to think that this type of symmetrical surveillance would likely be accepted by both the masses and the powerful elites. And up to a point, it might.

But information is power, timely knowledge is wealth. Powerful elites in government and other institutions are driven by ambition to stay on top of the human pyramid. They are unlikely to give away significant advantage, no matter how things seem to be developing on the surface. The house always holds an advantage in odds. Either become “the house” or learn to work the odds.

It is possible to learn to walk through mass surveillance unseen, hiding in plain sight, showing the cameras what they expect to see from a resident of drone world. You need to understand what the technology can do, in order to mask your self and your goals from the watchers.

It is easier to live at the fringes of surveillance, where the holes in the net are wide enough to drive a large bugout vehicle through. But even there, absolute privacy is an illusion.

So you choose what you want to show, and what you want to hide. Then you move on without obsessing on the panopticon more than is necessary to keep up with developments.

We will need to give this issue more attention in the future.

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1 Response to Rejecting Privacy; Embracing the Panopticon

  1. Matt Musson says:

    I suspect that leaving ‘faux’ footprints on the net is the next step in sabotage.
    Don’t like your boss? Leave his IP address hit on a child porn site.

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