In 1786 or thereabouts Jeremy Bentham working with his brother Samuel proposed a building design to improve the efficiency of management of a large unskilled workforce
The ‘Panopticon’ was a circular building at the hub of a larger compound from where the managers or supervisors could oversee what was going on.
Later Bentham applied this idea to prisons with the intention of reducing the number of staff required to oversee the inmates and thus the cost. The key idea being whilst the staff could see all the inmates, they themselves could not be seen.
The prisoners would know they were being watched at all times, but could not see the watchers, who could, in principle, be removed altogether.
This was never adopted by the authorities; along with many other of Bentham’s suggestions it was somewhat before its time.
Underlying the idea was the concept that because they believed they were under observation, the prisoners would also ‘watch’ each other to maintain order amongst themselves avoiding any potential punishment.
Extend this principle to the idea people in general who believe they are ‘being watched’ will behave according to the ‘rules’, whatever those rules might be or wherever they may have come from.
Like it or not, you and I are being watched – constantly.
Maybe not in the Orwellian sense of being observed even while we are in our homes; although the technology for observing people through their computers, TV screens or other devices (Alexa?) does exist and is often in place.
And not all the time through the plethora of CCTV cameras, public and private which festoon our streets and many private homes – my neighbour records every person who passes or approaches his house with three external cameras watching out.
The thing is, not only are we ‘being watched’, we, are watching each other – just as Bentham suggested.
I don’t believe, although many do, there is a central ‘government’ agency spying on us but there are many private agencies recording everything we do, Facebook, Google, Amazon and all the others we interface with on line are recording everything.
They insist this is so they can send us advertising they believe will be to our benefit – really?
But it’s not only commercial interests that are monitoring, there’s a social element as well.
You and I are supposed to ‘behave’ according to the ‘rules’, made up by ‘society’ who also believe they are taking on the task of enforcing the laws of the land – although there’s a big difference between ‘laws’ and ‘rules’.
But who is ‘society’?
It’s another of those concepts that doesn’t really exist. It’s created by the media, gossip and advertising building a framework as to how we (the people = society) are expected to behave.
Here’s an example: according to society’s ‘rules’ we are not allowed to ‘give offence’ but we seem to be encouraged to ‘take’ it. People are very quick to be ‘offended’ by what we say, what we do, how we dress, where we go and so on, whether we are intending to upset them or not.
Doing anything that doesn’t conform to the societal ‘norm’ is frowned upon, considered weird or causes outrage.
These ‘offences’ are nothing to do with the law of the land, and sometimes the reaction of some members of ‘society’ is itself illegal!
There is no ‘big brother’, no central ‘watcher’. You and I are being watched, criticised, commented upon and sometimes in a more sinister way trolled or stalked by people who consider themselves upstanding members of society protecting its values.
Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ has turned out to be society itself – we are watching each other.
Take care. – and watch your back!