It is evident that technology is everywhere, “in different contexts and take a wide variety of forms, but it will affect every one of us, whether we’re aware of it or not” (Greenfield 2006:9) due its ubiquity nature.
As technology is so saturated in today’s civilization we do not even realise we leave traces of our shopping habits when using loyalty cards, our date of birth on social networking sites and shopping habits when we peruse the internet. Marketers use our online data to send suitable offers (Solove, 2004). Garfinkel concurs stating that “it is no longer remarkable that such detailed profile of a person could be constructed from publicly available sources” (2000:87). This inevitably means that we are being patrolled, as when we are using these technologies we are leaving fragments of our lives (Staples, 2000). Lyon brings up that if in the 1970s we would not have believed we would be monitored to the extent of ensuring we were not loitering however, we have now evolved into an age where by this level of casual surveillance becomes natural (2007).
Due to using these ubiquitous technology, we have become too familiarised and not even recognise it as technology anymore (Greenfield, 2006). This constant stream of surveillance, where no matter what we do we will be watched, eerily mimics George Orwell’s novel 1984 (1949). Brin acknowledges this, questioning if we have “entered an Orwellian nightmare?” (1999:4).
Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish (1977) the idea of the panopticon, whereby “a state of conscious and permanent visibility assures the automatic functioning of power” (1977:201). What Foucault describes here is a mechanism of discipline to ensure order. However, Solove claims that the idea of the pantopicon in society is that people obey, not because they are being watched, but the fear of it (2004).
To discuss George Orwell’s novel 1984’s (1949) impact on society it only seems relevant to include the television series Big Brother, which was based on the Big Brother state Orwell imagined. Big Brother displays a “synoptican form of totalitarianism” (Al-Hakim 2007:106). Jade Goody, a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother 5, became under scrutiny as the public witnessed Goody refer Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetley as “Shilpa Popadom”. From the public watching Jade’s every action her blight of ignorance did not become unnoticed and she quickly became a hated figure.
However, Jade Goody’s case is not unusual, especially with the aid of technology allowing us to send and receive information quicker than before (Bell 2001). People of the public who were not willing to be watched constantly on a game show like Jade Goody, can also be victims. An incident occurred on a subway in Korea where a girl refused to clean up her toy dog’s excrement. Due to our technology soaked culture, people were able to broadcast her actions and she quickly became, like Jade Goody, a hated figure. Additionally, she was charmingly dubbed as (and more known as than her actual name) “Dog Shit Girl”. Greenfield argues that if “technology had not been in place to record her face and present it for all the world to see (and judge), she would have escaped accountability for her actions” (2006:241). The act of control is not something for government agencies or polices. It can now be ordinary people who can control and possible change your life. We are mimicking the power of the police. (Lyon 2007).
Like “Dog Shit Girl”, “My Tram Experience Lady” went viral on Facebook. Since then it is thought “My Tram Experience Lady” has been arrested thanks to the aid of public policing and surveillance.
There are many more examples of citizens mimicking the power of the police, especially online. For instance, now on Facebook we can flag content as “inappropriate” whereby the user will then have to remove the content under Facebook’s review. Additionally, there is the Facebook group Spotted:Luton, whereby people are able to post sights that have offended them in Luton. Trotteir investigates policing social media and claims that “any single act of surveillance is amplified in its scope” (2012:414).
Typical Example of a Spotted:Luton post
Here, arguably, are good examples of where constant surveillance has helped put right people’s obnoxious, racist actions to rest with justice. So where can it go wrong? Lyon discusses the boom of “nannycams”, in that worried mothers are likely to hide webcams to surviell and ensure their hired nannies are providing the sufficient aid for their children (2007). Likewise, neighbourhoods are now more likely to install CCTVs to keep their areas safe. It will be naive of us to assume that we do not live in a racist classicist world, and therefore these acts of surveillance can strengthen the classicist/race divide. It will, mostly be rich women inspecting their lower class help, or white neighbourhood’s ears pricking up if they see a non white figure in their area. This mirrors the death of Trayvon Martin too well. Whereby an innocent African American boy who was shot dead by a man conducting a neighbourhood watch on a predominantly white gated community.
To discuss the power of ordinary people operating surveillance is fair to say it is mainly powerful for the ones that are lesser oppressed (such as the upper/middle class) who can utilize these technologies to their best advantage. As Castell claims that technology can indeed by a tool of freedom “but it can make the powerful free to oppress the uninformed” (Morozov 2011:255).
To conclude on my own experience, the company Whitbread, who owns the brand Premier Inn (budget hotels), will survey their brand’s Facebook page and TripAdvisor. If they spot negative feedback they will contact the guest (and of course they will have all their information through their guest history data…) to offer compensation for the guest, in return for them to retract their statement on the social networking site. Although this seems ideal for the guest to receive a complimentary gift, it gives the notion that the company assume the public are that easily bought, and therefore, the bigger organisation wins. So although we may feel we have the power that we managed to receive a “cool freebie”, did Whitbread not just mimic Orwell’s “Thought Police” and survey our own opinions?
Al – Hakim, Latif (2007). Global E Government: Theory, Applications and Benchmarking. London: Idea Group Publishing.
Brin, David (1999). The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?. New York: Basic Books.
Cohen, Shawna . (2011). My Tram Experience: Mother Arrested Over Despicable Racist Rant . Available: http://www.mommyish.com/2011/11/28/mother-arrested-over-despicable-racist-rant-my-tram-experience-384/. Last accessed 11 Dec 2013.
Foucault, Michel (1977). Discipline and Punish. UK: Allen Lane.
Garfinkel, Simson (2000). Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century . USA: O’Reilly Media.
Greenfield, A (2006). Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing. CA: New Riders.
Lyon, David (2007). Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Manchester Evening News. (2007). Celeb BB: Jade calls housemate ‘Shilpa Poppadom’. Available: http://web.archive.org/web/20070125164135/http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/entertainment/filmandtv/s/233/233670_celeb_bb_jade_calls_housemate_shilpa_poppadom.html. Last accessed 11 Dec 2013.
Morozov, Evgeny (2011). The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World. London: Penguin Group.
Robles, Francis. (2012). Shooter of Trayvon Martin a habitual caller to cops. Available: http://archive.is/JR5OR. Last accessed 1 Nov 2013.
Solove, Daniel J (2004). The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age. New York: New York University Press.
Staples, William (2000). Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. 2nd ed. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Trottier, Daniel. (2012). Policing Social Media. Canadian Review of Sociology. 49 (4), p411-425.