The topic this week in #etmooc is “Connected Learning’. We have been asked to consider ideas around openness, privacy and vulnerability in our online interactions.
In formulating my response to this question, I was prompted by a tweet earlier this week from Maria Popova @brainpicker
Michael Foucault was a French philosopher and contemporary of Jean-Paul Sartre. They each had different views about how being under constant surveillance affected members of societies. Although their opposing views were based on pre-MOOC societies, they can still be applied to our online behaviour.
Foucault was influenced by Jeremy Bentham‘s Panopticon, a building design in which inmates are kept under constant, unobserved surveillance. It is implied that the ‘watchers’ are in a position of power (think CCTV). Foucault argued that this type of surveillance suppresses freedom of action, causing the ‘observed’ to behave in an ‘acceptable’ way as ordained by the authority figure(s).
On the other hand, Sartre’s view was that if we think we are being observed by others, we put ourselves in the ‘watcher’s’ position, and therefore are actually observing ourselves. Sartre started to develop his philosophy of existentialism during the German occupation of France during World War II. “We were never so free….As when we were constantly watched, every gesture we made became a commitment“
And where do I stand on all this? I have no problem posting to Twitter. Indeed, I think that it is the sheer volume of voices in the Twitter Panopticon that makes me feel safe. Although I am careful to act within the norms of that community, any transgression I make is likely to pass under the eyes of the ‘camera’.
However, when I put my thoughts down in a blog post I am making much more of a commitment, and here I most definitely put myself in the position of Sartre’s observer of the self. In fact, although there is a Preview button here in the draft version of WordPress, it is only after I have pressed ‘Publish’ that I feel able to critique and correct what I have written, [I hope you are not reading this too soon after I have pressed the button!], and a typical blog post will take me hours, even days to write.
Where do you stand on this? Who is watching you, Foucault or Sartre?