Welcome to your Facebook panopticon

People have been calling Facebook a digital panopticon for some time now, but if you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s very simple. The panopticon was a building design dreamed up by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and in its most basic form, it’s a prison scheme which allows observers (i.e., prison guards) to have a constant view of the inmates if they so desire, without the inmates knowing for sure if they are being watched. The effect, of course, is feeling that one is always being watched, resulting in altered (more “normal,” acceptable) behavior. Bentham’s idea was, he said, applicable to poor houses, hospitals, schools, and mad houses — though he ultimately devoted his time to designing for prisons. The express purpose of the panopticon is behavior modification, what Bentham described as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” No such prison was ever built to Bentham’s specifications.

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