Archive Monthly Archives: July 2015

This Is No Peep Show

When I was a young child, I wondered how street lights worked. I imagined a little man inside the traffic light flipping switches from green to yellow to red as he monitored the intersection and counted the seconds in between each cycle. I couldn’t see him, but he could see me. There’s nothing like the imagination of children!

But what if I told you about a structure that does operate like that? A panopticon. A panopticon is a building with a type of large tower in the center. At the top of the tower is a room in which an authority figure would presumably be watching over everyone. It would always still be a challenge to convince everyone they are constantly under surveillance. Why that’s ok, and why it’s effective is because the lens through which this authority monitors the citizens (ahem, excuse me, I mean the inmates) is opaque. It’s a type of one-way mirror. The “warden” can see out, but the inmates can’t see in. That refers to what is called the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect is the concept that our behavior will change if we even think we are being watched. That is an ideal setup in places like prisons where one wants to control the behavior of inmates.

We accept this type of monitoring in a prison, but this is now being brought to another whole level. A camera can work as a one-way mirror. A camera like on your computer and cell phone. Take the case of Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf, who was horrifically violated when she opened her email one day and found naked pictures of herself. These photographs had been taken with the camera on the computer in her bedroom while she was getting dressed!

That is the outermost layer of skin on a monstrous genetically-modified onion that would make even Monsanto execs scream “Organic!” So what can you do? What do you do when there is a camera on your computer that is vulnerable to the kind of monsters which attacked Cassidy Wolf? There’s a camera on the cell phone you carry everywhere you go. These cameras (and computers, in general, as we’ll explore) serve as a virtual panopticon. Anyone with the sick desire to hack into them can do so whenever they want. So what do you do?

We’ll be exploring this matter deeply, but for now you may just want to put some masking tape over that camera when you’re not using it. I call this “closing the eye.” The word “panopticon” refers to the ancient Greek word “Panoptes,” which means “all-seeing.” That is what our technologies are sometimes serving as- all seeing eyes.

As law-abiding, stand-up citizens we don’t need to be monitored like inmates in a prison. We are not to be tracked by others in the public or private sectors.

Put a little piece of tape on that camera at the top of your screen. Think of it as an eyelid.