Soon -- probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two -- we'll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.
And we will be doing it to ourselves. This won't simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily. I call this world the Participatory Panopticon.
Surveillance, of course, implies the “watching over” of subjects from above, with an explicit power relationship between the watchers and those placed under its gaze. Trying to describe surveillance as “peer-to-peer” suggests a flattening of the power relationship that is counter to its very definition. Similarly, the notion of a “participatory panopticon” is at the same time redundant and contradictory. Foucault revealed how panoptic power becomes internalized by the subjects, thus, they necessarily “participate” in their own subjugation. Yet the top-down power relationship within the panoptic structure remains. The participation by the subjects does not make them equal with the watchers. Yet the informational voyeurism associated with Web 2.0 seems to imply a balance between the users: one shares their data streams in order to improve the overall worth of the network, coupled with the presumption that they’ll be able to observe and leverage others’ streams as well.
This notion resembles that of “equiveillance,” a state of equilibrium between the top-down power of surveillance, and the resistant bottom-up watching of sousveillance. Yet, this notion implies merely a balance in access to surveillance information, and is focused more on how to reach some kind of harmonious relationship with our rising surveillance society. With the informational voyeurism of Web 2.0, however, the goal isn’t to resist or come to terms with the power yielded by traditional surveillance, but rather to participate in a widespread and open sharing of the mundane details of one’s daily life. To give one’s peers a glimpse into one’s own personal universe.
Perhaps there is some connection here between the inversion of the panopticon and the inversion of the objectifying 'male gaze' with all its patriarchal, authoritarian connotations. What happens when a) the male gaze is returned (sousveilled) and b) the gaze develops the gazer's empathy in spite of himself?