Syndicate content

Bentham

Information is power: Silvio Waisbord on how digital technology changes the public sphere and notions of privacy

Roxanne Bauer's picture
How do digital media affect traditional theories of the “public sphere” and power? Are we living in a modern-day panopticon?

The notion of the “public sphere” is useful worldwide to consider how citizens can and do articulate demands to the market or to states. The public sphere is generally conceived as a place (figurative or literal) in which citizens can share information, debate issues and opinions, and restrain the interests of the powerful elite. This space is critical to the formation of public will and the transmission of it to official authorities.

In contrast, the Panopticon is a design for a prison or jail which allows watchmen to observe all inmates at all times without the inmates knowing whether they are being observed or not.  The idea has been used to discuss online privacy, as individuals are often unaware of how governments and companies collect and use the information they gather about them online.  Moreover, the revelation that governments and companies work together to “spy” on citizens, as revealed by Edward Snowden revived the concern that a modern-day panopticon might be possible.   

But these concepts raise another important question: How can the public sphere, which aims to limit excess power, continue to function if the state is monitoring citizen activity?  Much of the information that is collected and tracked online is willingly shared by individuals as they search the internet, use mobile apps, and contact friends and family. This activity is vital to the future of a public sphere around the world, but it also allows governments and companies to intrude in our private lives.

Silvio Waisbord explores these two evergreen, yet very immediate concerns. He argues that while digital technologies have improved the capacities of states and companies to track human activity, digital media can also be used for democratic purposes. 
 
The modern public sphere vs. The online panopticon

Living in a Panopticon

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"I have nothing to hide" - that's a sentence I dread in conversations about blurred lines between what's private and what's public. I hear it often in discussions about reality TV, Facebook pictures, and surveillance technologies, including cameras on every street corner and in every bus.
For surveillance, there is a security argument to be made – personal security, national security. For Facebook and reality TV, there’s an entertainment argument to be made – it’s what the audience likes to see, and in any case, the inhabitants of the Big Brother house chose to be there. These arguments are insufficient. The problem about blurring the lines between what’s private and what’s public is a matter of principle, not a matter of personal convenience.

Quote of the Week: Jeremy Bentham

Sina Odugbemi's picture

版本: English

我们如何用新思维考虑扩大农民主导型灌溉以支持全球粮食安全和减贫?这是2017年粮食生产用水国际论坛讨论的核心问题。本次论坛的主题为“水确保粮食安全:从地方经验到全球影响”,它是基于全球性突破通常受地方行动驱动这一前提提出的。

本次论坛由世界银行和内布拉斯加大学多尔蒂粮食生产用水研究所联合主办,由多个合作伙伴提供赞助。论坛展示了农户代表、私营部门、国家和国际政策制定者以及主要国际金融机构的心声——激励由多方组成的支持联盟使农民主导型灌溉合法化并成为主要发展议程,特别是在非洲。
 

图片1说明:温室大棚中的水栽黄瓜。
摄影:Sashko(经由ShutterStock提供)

The Age of Communication Research

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Communication is something of an ugly duckling in the social sciences – not many people take it seriously and not many people see the immediate relevance of the research. However, the study of public opinion is a good example to outline the immediate relevance of the field – and its future relevance.