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By ANDREW LEONARD ,salon.com – “Visibility is a trap.”
It can be safely argued that those four words, written by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his discussion of the “panopticon,” were never more true than they were this year. Our visibility — defined as ubiquitous, networked digital connectedness — has at long last enabled an unprecedented surveillance state. In 2013, the negative consequences of our contemporary lifestyles were impossible to ignore.
But not just for the most obvious reason — the avalanche of revelations about the depth and scope of government spying delivered by Edward Snowden, which seized the world’s attention from June onward. The surveillance society is hardly limited to NSA spooks. We are now open books for everyone to read: Our friends and our enemies and our stalkers. Our providers of email and texting and social media and advertising and entertainment. Our employers, our doctors and our teachers. We have never been more visible, never been more willing or able to open up every moment of our existence to the outside world. And in doing so, we have handed the watchers fantastic power.
When you use something as seemingly innocuous as the flashlight app on your smartphone, it’s entirely possible that your location data is being gathered. The particular constellation of apps you use most often is exploited to build a profile for targeted advertising. Netflix makes note of every time you pause or fast-forward an episode of “Orange is the New Black.” Facebook is analyzing even the status updates that you delete before posting. Google Now knows when and where I am traveling, what packages are on the way to my house, and, of course, what I have been searching for recently. Your employer is gathering every conceivable data metric for evaluating your job performance.
Visibility is a trap. The convenience of the smartphone is a trap. The web of connectivity that binds us into a seething, ADHD hive mind is a trap. Our daily lives are constructed out of ones and zeroes and because they can be counted, they will be counted.
But understanding this fact is, and must be, the first step toward escape; the Panopticon doesn’t work if we watch the watchers back. Knowing exactly how we are being surveilled is the set-up for a prison break.
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In its original formulation by the 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the “Panopticon” was an instrument of control, “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”
The Panopticon, in Bentham’s formulation, is a building in which a single watchman or “inspector” can see every prisoner “without being seen” himself. The theory is that if we know it is possible that someone is watching us, we will behave ourselves accordingly, even if no one is actually minding the store. The concept, as imagined by Bentham, applied to much more than just your local jail.
No matter how different, or even opposite the purpose: whether it be that of punishing the incorrigible, guarding the insane, reforming the vicious, confining the suspected, employing the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the willing in any branch of industry, or training the rising race in the path of education: in a word, whether it be applied to the purposes of perpetual prisons in the room of death, or prisons for confinement before trial, or penitentiary-houses, or houses of correction, or work-houses, or manufactories, or mad-houses, or hospitals, or schools.
At first glance, our ubiquitous closed circuit camera society — in which every keystroke might be logged, and the FBI could be watching us through our laptop camera, our GPS-enabled tablets and phones have become “NSA primate-tracking devices,” and the content of our emails is being analyzed by Google’s algorithms — maps quite nicely to the all-purpose utilitarianism of the Panopticon. We are all constantly being inspected; or, in what amounts to the same thing, we all might be under constant inspection.
Read more via How to defeat Big Brother – Salon.com.