Digital Panopticon


Arestor looked down at his newly born son with wonder, and with fatherly pride.  As for his new born son was beyond the size of any human baby imaginable.  Arestor wiped all the tears from his son’s crying eyes, all one hundred of them and decreed to all, from here forth, my son will be called Argus Panoptes. Hear me now, he shall be the greatest watchman of all of Argos, and for all ages.

Panoptes comes from Greek mythology and translates to, the all seeing.  Argus Panoptes was a giant of a man born with a hundred eyes, not two.  Panoptes was a great watchman, and observer of all things, as in that some of his eyes would close to sleep while the other eyes would always remain open, awake, watching, observing and always seeing.   He was the watchful brother of his sister, the nymph Io, and the servant of Hera, the wife of Zeus.  In the end, he was a victim of Hermes’s deadly trickery.  To commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argus Panoptes preserved forever, in a peacock’s tail.

The English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century conceived of an architectural design, Panopticon.  The name of the architectural design is in reference to Panoptes of Greek mythology.  The design allows a single watchman to observe occupants of an institution without the occupants being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.  Although it is impossible for a single watchman to observe all the occupants at once, it did establish a effective social behaviorism that all of the occupants acted as they are being watched at all times, in essence, the occupants constantly controlled their behavior within the environment.

The symmetrical notion of the observer and the observed has long been an idea of antiquity but more ever so relevant in the digital age, and modern life.  Almost every human interaction with digital technology require some level of authentication of either one’s surrogate identity or demographic identity, whether it is billing accounts, social media, credit cards or mobile devices, we live in a constant ebb and flow of, “to authenticate” or “to be authorized.”   Welcome to the Digital Panopticon my friends, leave your libertarian credentials behind, now your manila folders of John Q. PUBLIC and Jane Q. PUBLIC are now a binary data set.

The benefits and convenience of the Digital Panopticon are indeed addicting and necessary to participate in the modern digital world but there is a price to be paid, which is the currency of your privacy.  Never mind about being worried about being physically chipped, a soft chip will do and it is mostly under control with watchful eyes.  Your surrogate information with be tracked, and in some cases your demographic identity will be stored in secured databases.

So it should come to no surprise that the mass-media analytics are the most successful purveyor of demographics and market data, first with advent of  newspapers, radio, television, internet and now the digital age.  The old economy was ZIP code demographic analytics but today it includes Nielsen digital-on-line analytics in defining who you are in demographic terms, real time, GPS and worldwide.

Perhaps the most intrusive but legitimate Panoptes of mass-privacy are Facebook, Google, Twitter and the makers of smart devices.  Every aspect of these Panoptes seek, observe, and measure who you are by your online habitual disposition.  Read their privacy and data policies.  Of course there is the other kind of Panoptes to beware of, in that their nature can be illegitimate, cowardly, political and socially nefarious.  With a criminal disposition targeted towards the privacy of individuals to disrupt the integrity to authenticate individuality within the bureaucracy state, enterprises, and institutions.

Sometimes illegitimate and nefarious entities use hundreds of eyes or bots to see and crawl throughout the websphere to target their disruptive end to privacy, and individual freedoms.  Such is the hidden and veiled darkness of the world wide web.  Along with the cover of darkness, Tor ‘onion router’ networks are sometimes used by sophisticated intelligence, state, political, organized crime, and hackers, to avoid electronic traffic fingerprinting, and the transparency of their electronic identity.

It is also necessary for segments of the global populations living under repressive regimes to use Tor networks to conceal their web privacy from electronic surveillance exposing internet content deemed social or politically subversive, and to hide the locations of the hosts, and nodes.  Nonetheless, what is most important to all Panoptes of the world is the future to come.

Population Shifts:  
The world population by 2027 will reach 8 billion. Currently 54% world’s growth is occurring mostly in urban areas.  66% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050.  By 2050, the urban population in the developing world will top 5 billion with 1 billion of that will come from Africa, rising from 13% to 20% of the world’s population.

Digital Life:
Nearly 3 billion people are currently online, which is 40% of the world’s population.  80% of Twitter and Facebook activity is happening outside of the U.S.  More than 1.35 billion people log into Facebook each month.  500 million tweets are sent per day.  71% of global consumers own a SmartPhone.  85% of U.S consumers use a mobile device while watching TV.  The world’s largest mobile payment company processes 45 million transaction daily.

Social Mobility:
By 2030 2 billion people will join the middle class.  In Africa and the Middle East the middle class is projected to double and in Asia will rise to 3 billion.  In the next 4 years women will control US $28 trillion in annual consumer spending.

The next phase of digital life will result in instinctive, creative, and destructive processes, such are the fabric of change, as adaptation becomes the ways and means of both natural and disruptive selections.  In a nutshell, digital life or the Digital Panopticon will be catalyst for future social, political, and economic changes to come.

Essentially, the future of both physical and digital communities will be more urban, more digitally connected and synchronous, with a segment of the population growing with middle class affluence.  But see through the digital midway distractions as the growing technological loss of our privacy is like the troublesome bite of the gadfly that we must not ignore.

#DigitalPanopticon

All Rights Reserved  © Richard A. Peña 2015

Statistical Sources: Nielsen, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Twitter, UN and Facebook

 

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