AMONG CRITICS OF TECHNOLOGICAL SURVEILLANCE, there are two allusions so commonplace they have crossed into the realm of cliché. One, as you have probably already guessed, is George Orwell’s Big Brother, from 1984. The other is Michel Foucault’s panopticon — a vision, adapted from Jeremy Bentham, of a prison in which captives cannot tell if or when they are being watched. Today, both of these touchstones are considered chillingly prophetic. But in Exposed : Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age, Bernard Harcourt has another suggestion : Both of them are insufficient.
1984, Harcourt acknowledges, was an astoundingly farsighted text, but Orwell failed to anticipate the role pleasure would come to play in our culture of surveillance — specifically, the way it could be harnessed, as opposed to suppressed, by powerful interests. Oceania’s “Hate Week” is nowhere to be found ; instead, we live in a world of likes, favorites, and friending. Foucault’s panopticon, in turn, needs a similar update ; mass incarceration aside, the panopticon — for the rest of us — has become participatory, more of an amusement park or shopping mall than a penal institution. Rather than being coerced to reveal secrets, today we seem to enjoy self-exposure, giving away “our most intimate information and whereabouts so willingly and passionately — so voluntarily.”