I both agree and disagree with Benjamin Walker’s assertion that the Panopticon is a faulty metaphor. The panopticon is a theoretical building where a circular building is located around a central watchtower. The watchtower shines bright light such that the people in the watchtower can observe what those in the building below are doing, but the observed individuals can’t see when they are being observed. Thus they must always assume that they are being watched. Originally meant to be a prison, the panopticon can be applied to a wide variety of situations.

In today’s surveillance era, we are constantly tracked by cameras wherever we go; the cameras, as Walker argued the watchtower was, served as a means of deterrence. The argument goes that if there was visual evidence of your actions, engaging in criminal acts would be discouraged. But in today’s digital age, there are no “eyes” silently tracking us as we move from news apps to games to video-sharing websites. Instead, giant corporations and governments silently track our data usage to build algorithms that can help protect us from bad actors. But without those digital eyes, we are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors that we believe are anonymous. This is, I believe, the biggest strength in the concept of the panopticon – the deterrence of being in a constant state of being observed. But even though we know we are being watched today, we still act as if we are invisible. The watchtower is particularly interesting; it has migrated from being a physical building to being countless data surveillance tools arrayed by a variety of actors. The panopticon is very much real today in its surveillance sense; whether our behavior is being normalized or corrected because of its presence(whether or not we know about it) is another issue.