An important process of the Liberal Art’s program is the final Grad Project.
Students work with self-selected faculty Advisors, leading up to this important piece, on three Tutorials. This is where they explore different research methods, emerging current topics or questions of interest, to advance into their Grad proposals.
Like mini, single-credit, research projects. Here is a look at my second project, with one of Capilano’s Sociology professors, Sean Ashley. ⇓
Zero Days, Thousands of Nights
The accumulating clouds of summer ash spread through BC, permeating what felt like, every molecule of existence; asserting itself with impressive intricacy, into every air conditioned vehicle and defensive nostril. Attempting to escape Okanagan’s seasonal dismal, I resided in the Kampools art gallery. A stark poster for the running exhibit had caught my attention. In typical Millennial-minimalist fashion, the title read: Expulsion: Panoptic Machine and Feed.
The room couldn’t have been bigger than a prison cell. The exhibit was removed from the main entrance, with a floor-to-ceiling curtain partitioning the artist’s note to the viewer and the enclosure. Less impactful by 2D image (above), the “Panoptic Machine” consisted of eight generic surveillance cameras, and six projectors suspended from the unlit ceiling. The small screens displayed different reels of (what appeared to be) unstaged home-video footage. As much as I would like to say that the first thing that came to mind wasn’t The Doctor’s telephone box or H. G. Well’s Time Machine but that would be a lie. I was intrigued by the way in which Levi Glass’s installation tries to engage with the public’s normalized interaction with machine surveillance.
Jeremey Bentham’s Panopticon could arguably be referenced more frequently over recent history than the re-acclaimed apocalyptic poem, “The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats. The evolving figure and function of authority, as well as the rapid transit of technology growth, has presented modern society with a novel dilemma, safety or privacy?
Presently, it is appropriate to reflect on Michael Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment; a piece that is unbound by the particularity of space, and free from the temper of time, during an era in which The Cloud allows us to surrender the restrictions of memory, store our scattering interests, dissolve the physical and political boundaries between nations and evacuate the vitality in vis-à-vis trust. With its sinister title, Discipline and Punishment follow the omnipresence of the ever-shifting forms of power and its guise in society. Although the work’s publishing date, of 1977, leaves room for readers to assume an outdated point of view, Foucault’s inspection hold’s a timeless function, much the same as George Orwell’s 1949 modern classic: Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Both men, Foucault and Orwell, inspect essential elements of security, privacy, and surveillance. My main point of interest in Foucault’s piece was his analysis of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon because it has become a reoccurring architectural metaphor when discussing ethical Internet surveillance. Originally conceived in the 18th century by Bentham, as an alternative to costly prison plans, the model is primarily known today for its innovative system of supervision. Foucault interrogates Bentham’s utopian asylum for its disciplinary mechanisms, where in which there is permanent registration, tactical partitioning and automatized dissociation. His investigation of social quarantine and permanent visibility, the most important and controversial aspects of the panoptic design, were my motives to pursue their similarities to the Orwellian novel.
As readers grapple with the state of Winston Smith’s monotonous existence in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell attempt to address the vying dialectic between freedom and security. One could easily accept Winston’s hate for Big Brother, due to the nature of his invasive relation with the Oceania citizenry, but one must also rationalize the efficiency, certainty, and power of an ‘all-seeing’ security system. This particular black-and-white debate, of security and freedom, was the preliminary issue during the conception of The Internet. Wade Rowland explains the ‘Spirit of the Web’ as a “collective vision” by academics and computer enthusiasts in a “deeply psychotic world of Cold War nuclear gamesmanship”(347). Rowland Illustrates the process of Paul Baran’s research at Washington’s “RAND” think tank in the 60’s, outlining the Internet’s fundamental qualities; creating a network for communication that could survive a possible nuclear disaster, while remaining concealed from enemy detection (349). The animosity trove was a product of a dangerously accelerating race to produce the ammunition for a ‘just war’, new hierarchies of security paranoia were established in the Western Bloc and the Internet was born.
Baran’s doomsday “distributed network” was partnered with Dr. J.C.R “Lick’s” project to advance the nation’s inventory of computers for inter-military communication. Dr. Lick’s work re-established the arithmetic perception of communication systems, to a medium closer to what we use today, a network between people (Rowland, 353).The benefit of a docile and disciplined society, as Foucault points out in his work, would be that there would essentially be no conscription or stage of confidence fishing, volunteers would be plentiful. As a global network that has established itself as the leading medium for inter-person communications, accessible to individuals at virtually any location and anytime, the threat of security breaches, theft and cyber-attack has multiplied in number and form.
Common Vulnerabilities and Exposers (CVE’s) are critical and controversial elements of online security and modern public policy making. For 14 years the RAND research institute has followed over 200 unique CVE’s and tracked their “life status'” to controversially determine whether these ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities should be stored or shared publicly (Ablone, Bogart, 32). The argument lies in whether these ‘holes’ or ‘bugs’ are A.
On one hand, the Internet established a decentralized, “virtually” ungoverned platform for individual expression, relentless networks for global interaction, and an unimaginable wealth of information. Unfortunately, this tremendous tool had also evolved into the largest target of phenomenal individualized security, comparable to the pervasive Big Brother telescreens. The latter was meant to offer an over exaggerated, fictitious judicial system: an omnipresent Godly figure of judgment. Today’s use of social media on the Internet, with its ‘check-in’s’ and uninterrupted statuses, is embraced universally; it can claim to be the primary function of Internet use proportionally. The panoptic community and the online social media village is defined by its permanent registration and escalating points of supervised contact, just like the Godly image of Big Brother, where the individual becomes the subject of observation and the observer simultaneously.
The Chestnut Tree Café, both a location and symbol, in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the place where Winston finally experiences an end to his consuming worry, and hate for Big Brother. A café is a place where, traditionally, individuals come to observe, to enjoy the primal pleasure of people watching. Winston’s final pleasure could be read as the biblical ‘moment of judgment’ before his passing from life, but it could also be interpreted as his highly unanticipated fusion into the Big Brother system of ‘freedom in slavery’. The numbness and docility in Watson’s ultimate state is what Foucault recognizes as the ubiquitary state of a panoptic inmate; the faceless analog of zero and ones. Orwell’s ability to reduce the complexity of society into general binaries is what makes his message so effective. This reduction of information is prominent in Foucault’s panoptic warning, that the design can be used as an instrument to ultimately determine and characterize an individual. The Panopticon not only strengthens social force but also annunciates a traditional sovereign “House of Security” for the efficiently individualized “House of Certainty” in Foucault’s opinion. The greatest tax to safety and security is unpredictability, to uncertainty, which is becoming increasingly unfamiliar in the Internet era.
Deterrence Theory was a commonplace discussion during the Cold War era, the in-seminary period of the online network, when nations thought their safety was ostensible in militant capability: “to always be ready, but never used”. This dissuasion is the key disciplinary element in the Panoptic model, where surveillance is both visible and unverifiable. The Internet is a panoptic mechanism of discipline, a new political anatomy that frees society and individual, from the weight of archaic sovereign governance. A system that functions seamlessly, and continuously, uninterrupted by space or time while increased in efficiently without aid, at every point of contact (Foucault, 222). The seduction of order and security is universal, that there can be some kind of societal restoration into something that has never existed. This is man’s odyssey: to define some seamless web of inter-depended players. The psychological appetite to create order and close asymmetrical systems.
To refine history’s carnage of infinite possibilities down to brumal keyholes of binary decisions. Tribal man mapped the patterns in the sky and archived the magnificent products of the Gods, investigated the central pulse of life. Man has loyally connected the perpetually small and the immensely large through eons of life, which is what I find so fascinating about Foucault’s work. Somehow embedded into societal theory, awaits some utopia that is inherently quixotic, some fictitious society that is suspended from the quintessential element of humanity, the surprise of life. Ascribing discipline, surveillance, Big Brother or location services only changes the form of power in society. Ultimately, there cannot be a “pure community”, as history has demonstrated with Communist-capitalist China, Capitalist-now-post-neo-liberal-capitalist America or the tragedies of Jonestown. No amount of planning, coercion or observation can genealogically follow every observable idea, as purposed by Foucault and Orwell.
Ambitiously, Michael Foucault explored the subject of power, punishment, and discipline in his 1975 piece, Discipline and Punishment. Highlighting the significance of coercive discipline and diligent punishment in society’s birth of the prison. Most notably, Jeremy Bentham’s architectural principle, the Panopticon, is used to describe the state of an omnipresent surveillance system, a fictitious utopian prison. Today, in the presence of The Information Age, exposed to the remnants of the Dot Com boom, and crash, in a period of technological efficiency and surplus, Panoptic surveillance seems less fictitious.
Foucault, Michael. Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. New York, NY, Pantheon Books, 1977.
Rowland, Wade. Spirit of the web: the age of information from telegraph to Internet. Toronto, Thomas Allen, 2006.
How would one go about reducing the intersections between society and the Internet? Would you start by addressing the origins? Its points of contact with civilization, or one could say, which points are not in contact? How does one begin to address its position in time or affiliation with space? Could there be one point in which one could pursue an explanation to the Internet? How did the mysterious ‘online’ or cyber-security scares of the early 2000’s evolve into what has become a global ‘plug-in’ and cyber battlegrounds? Remarkably alien to disappointment, I dove into these questions and surfaced months later with dozens of new questions, but with a much clearer idea of how massive the online network has become.
Originally proposing a study of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its connections to Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment, combine with archives of technological advances that proceed Orwell’s dystopian date, I was confined by the sheer scale of information available on each topic alone. Having already an appetite for articles referring Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, Foucault’s consecratory Panoptic chapter assumed thorough attention. Personally, I found that this piece could be mistaken for a Luddite’s ‘Internet Manifesto’. Ruthless and emotionally charged, Foucault and Bentham’s metaphorical craftsmanship was a powerful statement of the role of power on the human condition. Combine with the melancholic fiction of Orwell’s influential novel; the future of security, privacy and surveillance appeared alarmingly bleak.
I was privileged to have the opportunity to investigate my topic under a number of mediums, by reading print pieces, online sources, gallery exhibitions, film, and podcasts. Having a diverse set of avenues to approach my topic made it much larger to approach since perspectives varied so much but it also showcased the complexity of the topic and how important the discussion is today. Unfixed portraits of criminal action, authority and power plaited all of the narratives I had attempted to navigate. By addressing fictitious schemes, hypothetical nightmares, and factual reports, I began an unintentional interrogation of the author’s epistemology. As a research tool, The Internet can provide a remarkable opportunity but ironically remained an understudy for retrieving information on my topic. The works that were chosen for my topic are appropriate precursors for my fall tutorial, where I will be looking at the dichotomy of internal and external conflicts in literature. The nature of power chaired the topic of this tutorial, so it only seems natural to address the complexities of the conflict next.