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Are we moving towards an electronic panoptical society?

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Introduction

Apart from several backlashes arisen from moral panics (with regards to pornography / accessibility to children), it could be considered that the general consensus of the Internet's qualities is represented as utopian. Often referred to as 'the world's largest library', the wealth of information available (via the comfort and privacy of the home) from infinitely diverse sources, suggests that the World Wide Web offers an endless utopian solution for all sections of gender, race and belief. Two of the most common areas of theory relating to the implication of the Internet relates to the issues of community and identity. As noted in Daniel Littler's article at newmediastudies.com, the potential of the Internet as a new way of communication holds wider significance than in the terms of a mere technological advancement. The tools and social meanings of computer-mediated communication (CMC) allow for new interpretations of discourse with regards to community, identity, power and surveillance. ...read more.

Middle

Identity within CMC therefore assumes a new flexibility and control over self-presentation, a wider opportunity for experimentation in which an individual can create a 'front' that includes emotions, appearance and manner. The ability to control not only one's own private information, but partake in the private information of others, has arisen the opportunity for commodifying and commercialising certain elements of CMC, and also affecting the individuals power status within the virtual community. The introduction of CMC and subsequent success of web cams has given the opportunity for existing theoretical models of power and surveillance to be reapplied and revaluated with regards to these new 'anonymous' online identities and how they function within the online medium. Bentham's conception of the panopticon illustrates the architectural model of a unique prison; "The design of the panopticon consisted of a tower in the centre surrounded by a ring shaped building composed of cells, each housing a prisoner. ...read more.

Conclusion

The model of the panopticon, and the notions of social control that it describes have been applied to many elements of the public sphere. Community, politics, education, medical treatment and punishment are all functions of society in which the structure of the panopticon can illustrate, however when the panoptic is applied to the functions of a new medium, such as the internet, is when the solid structure of Bentham's model can be debated. Within the Internet and all that it entails, cyberspace, online communities, how is the panopticon challenged, or conformed to? I f the panopticon is applied to the limitless boundaries of the World Wide Web, can it expose who or where or what holds the power in the virtual society of cyberspace? As the internet could be described as a new medium, and therefore debate regarding it's position and sociological 'effects' have the potential to become dated with haste, theories employing models of the panoptic has arisen. Thus a consistently re-occurring question, that of whether we are moving towards an electronic panoptical society has bee seriously acknowledged and debated. ...read more.

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