Felix Stalder on Fri, 11 Oct 2013 23:05:50 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Pascal Zachary: Rules for the Digital Panopticon (IEEE)

On 10/11/2013 01:46 PM, Newmedia@aol.com wrote:

> Correct. The principles involved have been in force for the past
> 100+ years -- long before *digital* systems. In the original
> 19th-century Benthamite Panopticon, the key idea was that the
> "inmates" had no idea if anyone was watching, so they "policed"
> themselves. DIGITAL systems finally make these principles fully
> operative.

No, that's not what I meant. There are at least two differences
between the current systems of surveillance and panoptic ones.

First, even if the guard is temporarily absent, there still needs to
be a guard who demands to be paid and wants a pension, there still
needs to be a prison built and maintained, and the very fact that
power puts someone in prison, means it becomes responsible for that
person who needs to be fed, clothed and otherwise taken care of. A
prison is not the same as slave plantation, after all.

Current systems try to get rid of all these costs and responsibilities
by making the controlled populations do their own controlling and even
pay for the privilege of doing so.

Second, panoptic systems are about internalizing proper behaviour
through self-policing. So, in the end, it's an educational system,
aiming at reforming the inmates psychology, basically through creating
an ID, if you like, for people who lack proper self-restraint.

Current systems of surveillance don't care about psychology at all.
They are all about de-constructing and re-constructing behavior
through building systems in which pure self-interest compels people
to toe the line (which, ideally, they never even realize that it is a

After all, even if you hate the credit rating system, there is little
pride in fucking yours up. So it's about "creating incentives" and
"nudging" people, about creating "choice architectures". Nobody cares
what you think, only what you do.

Now, what DIGITAL technologies enable is to construct such systems
more or less arbitrarily (after all, in digital systems, everything is
made up anyway) and to do so very comprehensively.

> The uproar over the Snowden NSA "scandal" is *NOT* really
> about the NSA at all.

I don't think there is much of an uproar, outside relatively narrow
civil liberties circles in the US and Europe (sadly enough). One of
the reasons for this is that most people realize, somewhat dimly
perhaps, that this system is for keeping people out, while they are
happy to be inside. I think what very few people realize is how
quickly the boundaries between inside and outside can be redrawn and
how quickly one can suddenly find oneself on the outside. I think if
the Occupy movement had been more successful, this is what would have

To me, this is the real problem with the new kind of surveillance,
it's easy not to feel it, until they yank the floor underneath your
feet, and then you're outside, facing a very high wall. And there is
no telling when it might happen.



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