Philosophy Friday: Self-Regulating through Social Media.

22 03 2013

Thoughts on the Panopticon & Computers.

Are our computers the new “panopticon” regulating our behavior through self-regulation?

Have we gone so far as to not even need an “institution” to keep us docile?

Through social media we are creating a two-way mirror of judgment and individual normalization. Social media is the new internalized surveillance.


The “panopticon” is basically an “all-seeing” observation tower that allows guards to constantly have prisoners under observation. Prisoners never know when they are being watched, thus they start supervising their own thoughts and behaviors and as Foucault says, a prisoner becomes the “principle of his own subjection.”

But now, we are in control of the (online) observation and we still allow said observations to occur. Perhaps it’s because we have all grown up in the world of the panopticon—it subtle or not so subtle—being the concept for how most major institutions function—prisons, schools, hospitals, key corporations etc. so we become so engrained with self-monitoring that we now purposely do it as part of our daily ritual.

We are creating an online persona to be monitored and though we may not track all of our behaviors from reality to the web, they still are connected—we are cyborgs at least in regards to our social lives. Our day-to-day is entwined with computer technology that it would be almost impossible to separate it at this point.

I am not saying that the weaving of our natural and technological lives is a bad thing, but I am suggesting that there is a power dynamic here that we might be overlooking. Are we at a point beyond the need to be controlled by some sort of hierarchy because we are actually controlling ourselves? There are few individual people who actually exercise power over a large population and maybe it’s because computers are doing it for us, in that we are maintaining our own subordination through self-regulating our personas online. We are keeping each other in check in an almost passive-aggressive sort of way.

Anyway, I feel like I’m on to something here but haven’t quite gotten there all the way. I would love other people’s opinions on the matter.