Is Panopticism Real?

The Panopticon was an ideal prison where all prisoners are within view of the guards; however, the guards are not within view of the prisoners. This creates the illusion of being surveilled 24/7 by the prisoners. They never know when someone is watching, so they behave in a proper manner just in case.  An instance in which we never know when we are being watched is the use of security cameras in public spaces (such as a school, government building, etc.). With most security cameras, there isn’t an easy way to determine whether the camera is in operation. This means the viewer is able to watch passerbys at their discretion; however, the passerby is unable to view the viewer. 

The passerby is compelled to act accordingly for fear of punishment. Unlike the Panopticon where this reality exists 24/7 for inmates, in public spaces, this illusion is limited to the field of view of the security camera. Once a passerby is out-of-range of the camera, they are no longer compelled to act correct because no one would be none the wiser. 

Both cases of panopticism use possibility as a means of control. It forces the observed to perform a cost benefit analysis of their actions. In both scenarios, the observed could misbehave (nothing is physically restraining them from doing so); however, is the possibility of being caught and punishment greater than not being caught? There is no true way for them to make that assessment; therefore, they must assume it is always great. They must then consider if the action is worth the punishment. This is no easy task. In the case of the passerby, the punishment may be mild depending on the action. A child skipping class, for example, usually results in detention. The prisoner typically receives greater punishment regardless of the action since they are already imprisoned. Typically, this entire thought process deters the bad action all together. 

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