Connection to the virtual panopticon is addicting, an enslaving compulsion. If you have lost the ability to concentrate without the screen of the device connecting you to the Internet, you have effectively cyborged yourself to the Net. You have become one of the virtual undead. The needle slips into your eye and you don’t even notice. Everyone with a device has become a cyborg in all ways except having the machines surgically grafted to our bodies. I’ve certainly made it my primary Jones. The panopticon itself is a cyborg made of many users being used by the seductive tools of the res technica: Tools that whisper sweet nothings in our ears. Or eyes, or any available orifice. The panopticon recruits our brains via manipulation of cognitive biases. We guard ourselves against any escape from the net.
There is no controlling ruler or keeper any more than a Queen Bee “controls” or “rules” a hive except as a replicator of genetic information (the Mother of Algorithms) the form of workers, her daughters. People speak of the Internet “hivemind,” but the most salient feature of a “hive” for social insects is that it has no mind. A hive, a social insect colony is, in effect, an autonomous automaton made of many small robots… There’s Dennett’s quote of the Italian journalist’s headline, “We have a soul, but it’s made of tiny robots.” But humans, scientists or not, do not ascribe “soul” or “mind” to an insect hive.
Entities like the NSA or Google or Facebook aspire to control by storage of information, but the resources of information are processed by individual workers i.e. users, imprinted with the memes of the entity, the aspiring panopticon. Who needs robots when you have mechanical turks? In this res technica, we are all spies in the House of Love. I spy, you spy, we all spy, but some spy more than others. Corporate persons such as Google and Facebook spy more than you or I, and the NSA spies most of all. The virtual panopticon is a kind of data gathering ponzi scheme, a Maslowian Pyramid of Blackmail (cf. Jarod Lanier), an information architecture made of peek-a-boo.
The panoptic eye is not all seeing and all knowing; it is all gathering and all storing. Remember that the ‘net started as a DARPA project, a military program. Even computers were originally conceived of and developed by Von Neumann and the rest as a tool for cryptography and analysis, control of information. We communicate via the Internet, but that’s secondary; the Internet as it stands is primarily a surveillance medium, not a communication medium. All the free services seduce us to freely assent to be surveilled, sampled, stored, and channel all our interactions through it.
Big Brother is watching you, yes, but that is not the primary thing; Big Brother is selling you. Big Brother is in sales. In a surveillance medium like the Internet, identity is theft. Self stolen from the real given to the virtual. Reverse Robin Hood. You steal your self and give to the rich.
Privacy in the global internet panopticon is of course an illusion. Whether or not we have a right to privacy is arguable but irrelevant; it doesn’t exist. If you think you have privacy or can have privacy online, you’re fooling yourself. Jeremy Bentham called such an imaginary right “nonsense on stilts.” The only refuge is in the fact that the amount of data is so vast that each of us is needle in a haystack bigger than Mt. Everest. But with the right algorithm any particular needle can be found. Anyone who evinces a sense of privacy is suspect. A flagged suspect. The set of “usual suspects” is rounded up.
I find it salutary to visualize the relationship between any corporate subset of the panopticon, say, Facebook, and a user like myself thusly: The user is a caterpillar; Facebook is a parasitic wasp. Facebook stings you, lays its eggs in your body; its offspring hatch, and eat you from the inside out. Since you are tranquilized by the sting, you are not particularly perturbed when the offspring burst out of your chest. And no, you are not a butterfly in the afterlife. Wasps all the way down.