Saturday, 22 October 2016

Facebook as Panopticon: I am not doing well. Do you care? Or am I self disciplining?

Friday, 21 October 2016, 7:23 AM
When I was young, government surveillance was something out of post-apocalyptic novels like 1984. Something that happened beyond the iron curtain, in the Soviet Union. Something scary, best to be avoided. Surveillance here in the West started innocently enough, bar codes being scanned at the grocery store so that the store could keep track of inventory through their point of sale system and so could ensure that the products we liked to buy would be on the shelves. Then came airmiles, so that the industry could keep track of our purchases...
Here we are in 2016, and our whole lives are under surveillance.  Cameras on the street catch us walking through the city in our daily lives, 'point cards' are the thing taking up the most amount of space in our wallets. The wildly successful TV show 'Person of Interest' has just finished up a run of five seasons about how our lives are under constant surveillance, and how we willingly let that happen.
But how did we let that happen? When did government surveillance stop being a thing to be feared, and started being a thing we bought into?  You cannot say that it was 9/11, because we were on that path long before then. There is not a waking moment when my son does not have his smart phone in his hand, checking social media.  He laughs at me, as I rarely know where my phone is, let alone if it has a charge left in the battery. His entire world is in his phone.  My grandchildren are the same, constantly asking for the phone to play with.  They cannot build simple wooden block structures, but at 5 and 3, both can find their way to their favourite programs on YouTube from a seemingly locked phone.
While I am not the most technically savvy person, my 'life' revolves around social media.  Most of my friends and peers are in far flung places around the world. We spend 'morning' coffee together, sharing ideas, talking about our lives, discussing the latest research project, editing each others papers for publication in journals. I'm also able to watch their kids grow up alongside my own. Our lives are online.
We often self edit what we say on Facebook though, what do we think our friends can handle as far as information about our daily lives. How are we doing really? One can put up a brave face, or just stay in the shadows, lurking through a rough spot. Nobody will know, because they can't see our faces on a daily basis, they only see the carefully composed selfies. Do our friends really 'know' us?
I know I share far too much on social media.  There are times when I feel as if I am shouting into the wind. I talk about the things that I wish other people would talk about, so that I would know that I am not alone in how I feel about grad school, about academia. This term, I have canned my way through the stress I have been under, 40lbs of beets one weekend, 20 lbs of apples another. Reading my friends status updates and blog entries for school have lead me to suspect that many of my friends are feeling the same way, as they too are processing far too much food for one winter, for one person. Doing something tangible and productive when the words just will not flow. We are all skirting around the real issues we are dealing with, self disciplining our Facebook pages to show the world that we are doing well.  But are we really?