Chris Hand is an interaction designer specialising in physical computing, hacking and prototyping, and a co-founder and co-curator of This happened Edinburgh (Scotland). Chris lectures in design at Edinburgh Napier University, where he leads the...
Entry Nr 4: What is the opposite of Panopticon Contest? : Pierpaolo Giacomin
Pierpaolo "yrz" Giacomin: "One of the paramount features of the City of Trust is the ability granted by the city itself to the citizens to observe and control, without being exposed, whom is charged to perform institutional roles, in order to prevent any kind of malicious behavior and inefficiency. Considering this specific feature, the Panopticon metaphor could stand, assigning in the metaphor the role of inmates to authorities and the role of gaolers to citizens regardless of their primary social function. This metaphor outlines the answer to the old question "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" or "who watches the watchmen?".
Unfortunately this metaphor is far from complete, lacking to express observation features among peers, and among objects. With this in mind, the simplest metaphor could be the one of open-space offices, where all social interactions are performed in plain sight, regardless of hierarchies. The Openspace office metaphor conveys also the idea that there are means to hide events and objects, but in this way the privacy is merely a bug in the system design.While bugs and features are hardly distinguishable, this metaphor still lacks to convey the control of privacy granted by the system,
Furthermore, Zygmunt Bauman [bau] used the term Synopticon, probably created by Thomas Mathiesen [mathiesen], to identify a technique in which "the many are watching the few", letting go the concept of constriction of movement linked to the Panopticon but more associated to the spreading of mass media.
In Bauman definition the Synopticon has to be intended as a "non-violent" coercion of the masses, using seduction, to observe a social elite conveying messages to define and control trends and ways of life. Even if in nowadays society media are much more interconnected and bi-directional, literally, the prefix "syn" conveys also the concept of reciprocity.
Hence, the term Synopticon would still stand for the current and upcoming hyperconnected society, but in order to convey this distinction for the suite we will use the term Openspace/Synopticon, which, while sounding as a cool New York City based interior decorator studio, seems the most suitable term.
Moreover, from an hacker/maker/crafter perspective, the only privacy really trustable is the one enforced by the individual, and not the one granted by the system.
Thinking to the example of the two cities, jamming radio frequencies or even tampering, smashing cameras, and cutting the wires would be the only valuable self defense against surveillance when perceived as overwhelming.
Gilles Deleuze, in his "Postscript on the Societies of Control" wrote: "There is no need to ask which is the toughest regime, for it's within each of them that liberating and enslaving forces confront one another. For example, in the crisis of the hospital as environment of enclosure, neighborhood clinics, hospices, and day care could at first express new freedom, but they could participate as well in mechanisms of control that are equal to the harshest of confinements. There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons."
Those new weapons could be identified in self-defense mechanism from the system. On this topic of self-defense mechanism from the system both the Design Noir [dnoir] philosophy and the herma project [herma] turn out to show a way out.
Design Noir is a concept coming from the title of a book from Dunne and Raby, two designers, concerned by how overwhelming media and digital world affect the real world, both physically and culturally. Lady Ada [ada], following Design Noir concepts, initiated his talk at the 23C3 as following:
"In contemporary Western society, electronic devices are becoming so prevalent that many people find themselves surrounded by technologies they find frustrating or annoying. The electronics industry has little incentive to address this complaint."
Design noir is the effort of hackers, engineers and artists to jointly design objects for self-defense. Bright examples of design noir are a pair of glasses that darken whenever a television is in view, a low-power RF jammer capable of preventing cell phones or similarly intrusive wireless devices from operating within a user's personal space and a universal remote control turning off televisions within 100 meters.
It is important to notice that Design Noir is not something to be seen just as technology and design against mainstream technology. Noise-cancelling headphones are a perfect example of an object aware of its context and protecting its end-users from external unwanted over stimulation, and that's mainstream technology.
In the same way the Herma project goal is to empower the wranglers (SPIME's users) with full privacy control and defend them from any kind of malicious meddling, by the mean of a combination of Open Source hardware, software and protocols to be designed and implemented.
While embracing principles of Design Noir, the Herma project is not "against" society, it is just a mean (or weapon) to define borders of own personal space, allowing a smooth transition to the upcoming forms of society, and helping to build it. Metaphorically, the Herma project allows wranglers to build their own one-way glass cubicle in the Openspace/Synopticon.
Hence, to conclude I would say the Openspace/Synopticon metaphor could stand for the City of Trust.
[dnoir] Design Noir, The seedy underbelly of electronic engineering
[bau] Bauman, Z. (1998) Globalization. The human consequences. Columbia
University Press. New York.
[mathiesen] Mathiesen, T. 'The viewer society: Michel Foucault's
Panopticon revisited, Theoretical Criminology (1997). Pp. 215-34