January 13, 2014

Your Personal Panopticon: Privacy in Relationships & in Public.


Someone is watching everything we do at all times.

Whether we are using the internet, sending a text, kissing our boyfriend or girlfriend, taking a poop, cheating, lying, or having a two o’clock gin and tonic, someone could be watching. But then again, most of the time, people aren’t aware of what we do. Just the fact that someone is or could be weaving together a rough sketch of my daily life and relationships is enough to make me take a personal inventory of the privacy measures in my life.

I would venture to say that 95% of our problems with other people stem from a lack of communication or a lack of understanding about the way things really happened.

Have you ever suffered from the effects of a rumor? Perhaps the tail end of it whipped around and slashed you in the face? Have you ever judged someone because of something you saw online or saw them doing out in public? Perhaps you’ve cringed at someone’s reputation or avoided them romantically because of something you heard about him/her?

I have.

Every single person who hears, spreads, or is the subject of rumors is living inside a Panopticon. And the Panopticon affects every single person, every action, and every communicative structure that we subscribe to in our personal and public lives.

The Panopticon, an architectural prison structure designed by Jeremy Bentham in the 1700s, is a model for a building in which inmates can be seen, but they cannot see the guards who are watching over them.

Here’s the kicker:

Since the inmates do not know who is watching them or where the guards are located, they psychologically begin to believe that they are being watched at all times. So, the guards do not need to be on duty at all times because the watched become the watchmen.

Michel Foucault–one of my favorite social theorists—reiterated the theory of the Panopticon in the late 70s to apply to all social structures. Schools, hospitals, Facebook, workplaces—nearly everything—invokes a panoptic sense of dominance. For the most part, people are different than the online pictures they paint of themselves.

The technology we use is panoptic because someone, if they really wanted to, could look at the things we are doing. And they do.

But socially and in every sense of relationship, we are always inside a personal panopticon because we will never know what our friends and lovers are doing or thinking at all times. We have to surrender a certain level of control to become a part of someone else’s life. We have to be respectful and considerate.

At work, we shouldn’t do or say things that could ever be used against us. In relationships, we should be open and refrain from doing things that could be misconstrued or categorized as cheating. In friendships, we should be giving and honest. In our public lives, we should maintain a modicum of privacy and refrain from doing things that could start rumors or lead others to pass judgment.

But we can’t reasonably be expected to become the watchmen of our own Panopticons—that’s not fun.

Again, we have to realize the repercussions of everything we do socially, technologically, and professionally—and keep ourselves in check. We can’t be promiscuous or wild or outrageous without expecting to lose respect from others in some aspect of our personal or professional lives. We can’t have a past without having to cope with it in the present or future.

We have to be skillful about the things we do and say. We have to be considerate of the way others feel. We have to give up some actions or attitudes in order to make room for new love. New respect. New trust. Otherwise, we isolate ourselves into the category of those who need to be watched all the time. In other words, no one trusts those who do things that warrant distrust.

You can control how often you are watched; you can skillfully balance expression and the cultivation of trust and privacy.

We can be private and sacred in our relationships.

We can limit flirtatious language with others if we are in relationship with another.

We can let past relationships go and form new relationships and friendships.

We can make promises and do our very best to keep them at all costs.

We can do wholesome things such as yoga, reading, exercising, or creating.

We can limit our social media intake and output, and use it as a mindful tool instead of a time filler and killer.

We can consider the way others may feel as a result of our actions, and do our best to be accommodating.

We can compromise and close the gap between that which we share and that which we feel we need to hide.

Eventually, everything you do will whip you in the face when the karmic circle rounds its final cosmic corner.

So be careful. Cultivate love and trust. Be grounded.

Because someone may be watching.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo from Wikimedia Commons user DieBuche.

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