The Reality of Panopticism

The panopticon is a circular prison structure that contains six floors that house inmates and an opaque cylinder interior where guards remain. With this structure, the inmates are constantly unaware when exactly they are being surveilled and are expected to act as though the surveillance is incessant. This structure led to the emergence of french philosopher Michael Foucault’s concept of panopticism. This theory suggests that there is always an internal power surveilling the public. Control of the public’s behavior via subtle and/or unseen forces is deeply embedded into our society. 

Street cameras are an overt example of this panopticism. Throughout the world, but specifically in cities, there are cameras that line the streets. Whether at red lights, near schools, or towards expressways, these cameras have the potential to constantly surveil citizens’ actions and travels. Though citizens are warned of the cameras’ existence with traffic signs, they are not always aware of when the cameras are actively working. At times, it is not until a camera flashes or someone receives a ticket in the mail that they are notified of this surveillance. As a result, people tend to avoid speeding, running red lights, and recklessly driving. It is evident that the cameras regulate the public’s behavior without the need for an explicit enforcer. 

Technology is another example of panopticism that is more implicit. Today, technology is extremely advanced and is heavily integrated into society. The term “internet cookies” or “http cookies” describes small files of information that are transferred from a web browser to a web server. Such information includes users’ locations, button clicks, passwords, and more. Though users are usually informed of the cookie collection by prompted messages, many are unknowledgeable about the extent of the surveillance, what actions are significant, and who has access to the information. Nonetheless, the awareness of the surveilling forces influences some people’s internet activity. Society is far less to engage in dangerous, unlawful, or taboo media, since they know that powerful eyes are watching. As society gains a better consciousness of the severity of “cookies”, it’s likely that weariness, like Foucault’s panopticism, will increase.

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