Imagine that it is always possible that you are being monitored, but you have no way of determining whether you actually are being watched or not. This is the premise behind the Panopticon, a building designed to keep inmates in line. The building consists of rooms located in a circle around a single watchtower, from which a guard can keep an eye on everyone in each of the rooms around him. A light shining on the prisoners illuminates their figures, so the watchman can see them, but they cannot see him. This is how the few watch the many.
Can you imagine the psychological torment of living with the fear that someone can see your every move? Just the thought is enough to keep many people from misbehaving. Even if there is only a small chance of being watched at a certain time, the possibility alone keeps behavior in check.
Supervision such as this may seem cruel and a bit archaic, but doesn’t this parallel what is happening now online?
Let’s look at how the few watch the many online by using an example: Google. Virtually everyone uses Google on a regular basis, as it’s one of the primary ways we now gather information. However, Google has recently come under fire by the EU for infringing on peoples’ privacy. Google does not delete peoples’ search results, and this understandably angers many people.
Now, Google is producing prototypes for a new piece of technology called Google Glass. Google Glass is a pair of glasses that users wear that brings information right in front of their faces. Essentially, it’s like having a computer screen fixed to your eyes at all times. Watch the new promo video here.
Some people are concerned about the new threats to privacy that these glasses pose. If Google can already find out so much about people through saving their search histories and web activities, can you imagine what would happen if Google knew were people were at all times, and could actually manipulate what they saw?
This scenario isn’t dramatic; it’s realistic. People eagerly grab onto new technology without considering any negative implications. I guess that if you don’t care about “the few” (Google in the example) watching “the many” (you, and others, in this case), then it doesn’t really matter that Google could potentially track your every move. But if you are a bit creeped out by this, as I am, then the future with augmented reality seems a little too 1984. When someone can always be watching us, are we really still free?