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Perspective: We are all imprisoned now

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Last semester I gave a course on Latin American novels set in prisons. By reading the classic thesis "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison" by French philosopher Michel Foucault, his observations on surveillance had a special meaning for my students.

It is disturbing to what extent the culture of surveillance has penetrated schools. Foucault's book discusses the panopticon, a style of prison architecture designed by Briton Jeremy Bentham, where prisoners know they are being watched at all hours, and as a result self-censor their actions. Security cameras have brought this culture of constant surveillance into the classroom, transforming schools into 19th century variants of prisons. My students were aware that they were filmed throughout the day and that these recordings served as evidence to prove the violation of school rules.

Similarly, the workplace has implemented systems to monitor employees. From the strict time limits at Amazon to the fixed method of cleaning a room at Merry Maids, the actions of workers are constantly monitored and those who deviate from the established norms are penalized. In fact, there is already a separate staff to monitor the others, and even office workers are subject to programs that record how many times the computer keys are touched. As the tech industries collect data on every purchase, entertainment, and search on the internet, this surveillance has extended to our leisure time. Even our phones know where we are and our watches monitor data about our health.

Given this level of surveillance, we all unwittingly participate in judgment under the watchful eyes of a panopticon that mostly consists of private companies whose sole purpose is to increase their own profits.

I am Frances Jaeger and this is my perspective.

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Frances Jaeger is an associate professor of Spanish at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include Latin American contemporary poetry as well as Caribbean and Central American literature.