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Bentham’s Panopticon, Foucault argues, functions to make prisoners take responsibility for regulating their behaviour.Assuming that they care about the implications of bad behaviour, prisoners will act in the manner prescribed by the institution at all times that they are being watched.‘Conscious and permanent visibility’…’ Apparantly this is what Mark Zuckerberg thinks social media is all about.
Yet little is known about how social media is impacting us on a psychological level.
A wealth of commentators are exploring how social media is refiguring forms of economic activity, reshaping our institutions, and transforming our social and organizational practices.
But it’s too early to slip into the professional headspace – you decide that you don’t want to know. Lady Gaga is a man and we have photoshopped evidence to prove it!
Someone has messaged you on Facebook, so you check that instead. A friend will appreciate that one, so you share it with her directly. Should you include details about the design work you completed for the local event the week before? You are building your profile as a graphic artist and looking for quality clients.
The day has barely started and already you are split into half a dozen pieces. In under a decade, free online services like Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In have utterly transformed how we work, play, and communicate.
For hundreds of millions of people, sharing content across a range of social media services is a familiar part of life.The surveillance that directly affects us and impacts on our behaviour comes from the people with whom we share.There are no guards and no prisoners in Facebook’s virtual Panopticon. The crowd consumes the content that we share and, if we are favoured, it passes it on.For many people, the sharing impulse stems from a sincere desire to empower and inform their tribes and communities.We may be genuinely committed to getting the word out, or passing the word along, or just playing a part in keeping the conversation going by commenting on or liking what others have shared.Foucault died before the advent of the internet, yet his studies of social conditioning and identity formation in relation to power are applicable to life online. A Foucaultian perspective on social media targets the mechanism that makes it tick: sharing. Sharing content is not just a neutral exchange of information, however. The performative aspect of sharing shapes the logic and experience of the act itself.Seen from a Foucaultian perspective, social media is more than a vehicle for exchanging information. Mostly, when we share content on social media services, we do it transparently, visibly, that is in the presence of a crowd. There is a self-reflexive structure to sharing content on Facebook or Twitter.We are both guards and prisoners, watching and implicitly judging one another as we share content. The crowd honours the identity that we create by sharing this content.Sharing online is not solely a matter of self-affirmation and self-creation.This is not just because our activities are monitored and recorded by the social media service for the purposes of producing market analysis or generating targeted advertising.For the most part, we can and do ignore this kind of data harvesting.