Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 7 – “Online courses are prone to cultures of surveillance: our visibility to each other is a pedagogical and ethical issue. “

Are we now post-privacy if not post-human? Ever since the web began there has been the issue of it being a panopticon.

Of course there is hardly any commentator more than Michel Foucault who most famously used Benthams’s panopticon as a metaphor in addressing the issue of institutional knowledge and power. He built upon the dystopic views of Max Weber and his Iron Cage theory of bureaucracy where individuality and its expression is tethered within a technically ordered, rigid, and dehumanized society.

Bureaucracy puts us in an iron cage, which limits individual human freedom and potential instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free. [General Economic History. Dover Publications, 2003: p356.]

This idea has been played with in literature most notably George Orwell’s 1984 and Franz Kafta’s Josef K which depicts bureaucracy out of control. In the CCTV age, we are all subjects of scrutiny, the state and corporations and should behave as such, especially online. David Lyon has conducted some vibrant scholarship in this area. His The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society (1994) contains a lengthy discussion of the way in which panopticism is defined by “uncertainty as a means of subordination” (in other words by how the authoritarian gaze is unverifiable), his discussion of panopticism per se is largely concerned with the various data-collecting agencies that use the Internet to exert an external coercion on the individual, not with how such authority is internalized.

That is, who is looking and what do they want [expect] to see, and what would they prefer us to do, and what happens if we don’t do it, don’t buy it or don;t act properly according to their rules and regulations? Does that make the subjects of surveillance redundant or successful, winners or losers? Lyon is asking if these televisual apparatus extend into the world, into private lives then who owns and governs this nervous system in the McLuhan sense?

The internet has privileged some sections of society – in particular those concerned with public order and terrorism, and those concerned with understanding the conusmer, corporations – with a fantastic lens into the behaviour of the individual. It has also blessed them with the almost divine right to interpret that behaviour. This occupation has been given to them under the misgiven Freudian idea that all that is within is dark, uncharted, irrational, uncharitable and dangerous. It is a view that the individual is by drive and nature, bad, or ‘evil’.

Removed from the lawful and justly regulating forces of the pre-fontal lobe, the civilized consciousness mind and its defence mechanisms and the bastions of civil society the brain stem and limbic system would move us to commit a litany of heinous crimes. These authorities do not have a view a person capable of self-regulation, especially when it comes to consumption. Here they borrow a view of the individual deriving from economics in that people are always rapturous, always overly stimulated and hungry, and they just never have enough. Like the appetites and foregoings of the hard drug user or the gambler or the anorexic they simply just don’t know when to stop, when enough is enough.

    The hard drive and the cache have become essentially at least legal metaphors for an unconscious mind or hidden, true self

, dangerously full of highly-contagious and dangerous illicit items such as pornography and illegal video, music and software downloads, stolen booty. It is making obvious and bringing to the cold light of day all their illicit and forbidden, their skeletons, their most hidden and secret desires, and of course their inherent criminality.

I often wonder, I really do, how many people would have been arrested for possessing illicit materials if there were no such thing as an internet?

Foucault argues that more sophisticated societies offer greater opportunities for control and observation. So it is set to continue this invasion of privacy – assumed, performed, pretended and real. This explains the reference to liberty and rights. Yes indeed, what would it be like if there were no Trojan horse welcomed into the private home, and that there were no web sites registered to the private mind and personage, indexed and condemned in the iron cage of the database and files of those who are paid to know, paid to record, paid to find out and interrogate, and paid to report. You think this when you consider some of those everyday people, mums,and grandmothers and ordinary people, who have been prosecuted What if there was no facility to download? That would restrict development of private caches and bit torrents? At least hackers and terrorists will put some thought to all of this and have at their disposal the mindset and tools to play a technical and ideological cat and mouse game with these eavesdroppers, many of which were of their own rank and file and now work for governments and corporate media.

But in the experience of the ordinary layman, the novice, they fall for the guise that the PC, laptop or mobile device was a technology and access to the internet was a service that you paid for, that you in fact privately own, and by implication anything you put effort into finding out there in wild cyberspace, is yours, bearing in mind that any body else can own it as well. This last point is a defining feature of mass media at least since Guttenberg and also giving rise to the idea of intellectual property and copyright at least from the Stature of Anne. Ultimately when you buy a new novel, you are paying for the configurations of letters, words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters. They are designated as unique, like sounds, tones, notes, verses etc off music, the panning, edits, zooming and cuts of film, and the colours, strokes, shapes, rendering and composition of paintings, animations, graphical and digital art. But this comes under questions in the age of sampling, mashing and hashing, re-mixing, incorporation, appropriation, plagerisation and emulation.

All this collapses into the false security of the shuttered door of the private computer den or bedroom, where is echoes the fact you have paid to act, you have paid to load databases with personal information and statistical data, you have paid not only to be part of the machine, the corporate database where what they produce and you become one. You pay to be monitored and observed, similar to how you pay your phone bill to do the work of a bank clerk in phone banking, watched like a hawk for a prospect of a sale, and then held to task by legal enforcement and by a government when you in anyway ‘abused’ this freedom you were given within their jurisdiction. You can face massive fines, jail and public infamy.

I live in a country – Cambodia – that at first was unsettling largely due to its ‘wild west’ image – you simply do not see police after 5 pm at night and if you see them through the day it unusually to give them corruption money as you do not have a Cambodian driving license ($0.50). Now, it is strangely liberating, that, while it would be completely wrong to say that there are no incidences of serious crime, no its surprising how little burglary, theft, rape and murder goes on, and this points to the fact that has been acknowledged since David Hume, that people believe in the laws of reciprocation. There is a shared responsibility at the individual, group, community level to keep order and where the catch words are ‘look out for each other’ rather than ‘watch each other, interpret and report’.

Not only may vast numbers be coerced by laws which they do not regard as morally binding, but it is not even true that those who do accept the system voluntarily, must conceive of themselves as morally bound to do so… [T]heir allegiance to the system may be based on many different considerations: calculations of long-term interest; disinterested interest in others; an unreflecting inherited or traditional attitude; or the mere wish to do as others do. Hart, (1961/1997) The concept of Law

It is a feature of totalitarian routines that everyone must be watching out for subversive or enemy forces at every turn, Orwell’s dystopia 1984 shows this, as does Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
The U.S. government recently issued requests that the general public be vigilant for any unusual activity that they may see, including that which may not be of an obvious criminal nature. This means that just about anything could be suspect – it depends on the subjectivities of the observer. During the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, they had a term eyes of the pineapple, be watchful everywhere for enemies, and they were supernaturally aware of you. This led to people reporting on people, everyone scrutinizing everyone, simply because they had to report. Deaths occurred where illiterate 15 year old girls from the countryside were tortured and killed as Vietnamese or C.I.A. spies. Just like in the Spanish Inquisition, when you must report you will. But the internet is different. This is not peer-to-peer monitoring and observation, it is not even like the erection in the town square of a batch of CCTVs which explicitly remind young would be thugs not to attack anyone in this place on Saturday night. No it is much more insidious, hidden, tacit and invasive. It is ‘big data’ marketers and authorities who are scoping and monitoring.

Would they have committed these crimes otherwise? Maybe not, maybe yes, even though in their [dark and greedy] heart of hearts they may have felt like they ‘really’ wanted to? But would they in the real world? Or is it simply and more likely they couldn’t. Where did the ideas that this is possible come from? Where did the ideas and criteria that this is wrong, and on what basis come from? But because of system-logging we can prove that they did, and since they did, the inference is that they ‘really’ wanted to, were mindful and aware of what they were doing, knew it was illegal, and this leads logically to a conclusion that they are not good citizens for the greater society. . It is certainly not hindering the sales of music, which reached record proportions last year.

Since the internet began and since registration for news sites and others began, where you have to tick the box to illustrate your desire to receive updates and so forth –since this time I have practised a policy of submitting rubbish. I have maintained an alternative email address, and it receives all the bumf. You are at liberty to post on the likes of Facebook Timeline all your data, given that you feel, as I do, that you have nothing to hide.

The pedagogical issues of visibility I think centre around availability. When I was teaching online to a global assortment of students who were located across timezones it was difficult to do everyone justice. It suited me who was moving between the U.K. and Asia to have the flexibility of online teaching. I can also remember American faculty who trained at the same time as I hoping also to teach online so that they could fulfil their ambition of living in a remote cottage in the Baste country in Spain. But it was hard on students who were located in timezones which, for synchronous connection and online group discussions, had to get up at 4 a.m. They did it but at whose convenience? One final point I would raise is that, as systems become more sophisticated, I began to wonder if in delivering my course online, whether the system was tracking our interactions with a view to automating our responses. You could imagine a system, an organisation, which hire facility and observe and record all the interactions. After many semesters, and after sampling the styles and performing content and other textual analysis on the transaction and interactions between different tutors and students if it were not possible to model, responses Eliza style, and have an intelligent bot at least help teach subjects. In a sense the humans train the bot, then they are redundant, the knowledge age version of automated robots in manufacturing [please remember Zuboff, 1984]. Certainly in the earlier, non-creative stages of subject knowledge where one is building the necessary corpus and repertoire of fundamental and basic knowledge then there would be grounds for this. After all is this not what happens offline when senior members of academic staff such as the Professori farm out their teaching and tutoring responsibilities to Ph.D. students and new lecturers, or where they deliver ‘pack-em-in’ lectures to the large halls of massed first year students?

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