Surveillance in Contemporary Society: Social Media and the Eye of Power
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People have long been concerned about surveillance and self-surveillance. The Ancient Greek gods gazing down from the Olympus Mountain or the monotheistic god of the Judeo-Christian religions were all understood as all-seeing. With the society changing and being more and more secularized surveillance gained new forms indirectly incited by the old ones, at least in part. Bentham, who lived from the mid-18th to the beginning of the 19th century, was an English law theorist, philosopher and active reform initiator, who is best known as the pioneer of utilitarianism. As an utilitarianist, Bentham was concerned with maximum benefit, reached with minimum effort. By seeking to optimize the efficiency of prisons and other surveillance institutions, he pursed to change surveillance into self-surveillance. If in an ordinary prison the inmate feels surveilled only when the guard passes by, then in a panopticon style prison the inmate feels surveilled all the time. To achieve it Bentham utilized a strict architectural solution – the panopticon must consist of a ring-form building with an observatory-tower in the middle. Each cell’s walls, that are towards the inside and the outside of the ring, are transparent, therefore the light from the tower in the middle of the ring, would light through each cell. Whereas the walls between the cells are not transparent, thus they don’t see each other. (Bentham, 1995), In the twentieth century Bentham’s panopticon project was re-discovered. A real sensation became the French philosophers Micheal Foucault’s book “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” (Foucault, 1998), in which the conception of the panopticism is presented. It provided a big influence for visuality research. Foucault comes back the Bentham’s panopticon idea not to discuss the architectural idea, but to argue about the surveillance mechanism that are engraved into our society. For him panopticon isn’t a building anymore. It’s all of society’s framework, where individuals each moment implement their own subjugation. Foucault uses Bentham’s panopticon prison conception as a metaphor to unveil the society’s body filled with power.