After a full day of an email barrage about Facebook graphics, promotions and posts, I got stuck in traffic. I was bored and started perusing Twitter feeds to see who else was in traffic with me. Then I realized, there’s a marketing opportunity. Then I said…stop! Everything seems to be revolving around Facebook communities and Twitter feeds. A tornado in Dallas or Tupac’s hologram at Coachella, there was a good chance you knew about it through some social media vehicle.
I got home and this thought of an all-encompassing media sat on my shoulder like an angry Greek god, toga and all. It took a second to get out from all the minute details of social media to look at it from a 50,000-foot view. This all felt familiar and it hit me…Michel Foucault.
Michel Foucault was a French philosopher and social theorist who spent a great amount of his time on critical studies of social institutions. One of his most famous works was a book on the prison system titled Discipline and Punish. One concept of the book is the discussion of the Panopticon. In a Panopticon, a single guard has the ability to watch over many prisoners while the guard is unseen in his tower. Prisoners never know when they are being watched so they must act as if they are being observed. It becomes internal monitoring. An example of this is how sports stadiums are set up. The way seats are tiered is fantastic for the audience to watch the game, but it also allows for guards and security cameras to have full view of the fans. Follow me so far?
So Josh, we get it, you are nerd and enjoy philosophy, but what does this have to do with social media?
Social media has become a glass Panopticon.
While there are those who have designated Twitter as a personal brand developer, there are many people who tweet random musings. As they tweet, corporations and marketing companies are scouring the Twittersphere and pulling information about this person. So, 18-year-old college student Joe says he loves tacos and McDonald’s Big Macs in one tweet and the next tweet he says he can’t stop listening to the new Hoodie Allen single, some marketing exec can say, “well, we now have data that men 18-24 love tacos, Big Macs and Hoodie Allen.” The following week, a new McDonald’s commercial hits the airwaves with Hoodie Allen on it pimping a new Big Mac taco. And Joe goes…”wow…I love all of those things! McDonalds is speaking to me.” Good for McDonalds! They gave Joe what he wanted, before he really knew he wanted that. That’s good marketing. In this instance, the general public can be remotely watched without them knowing or even caring.
However, within this glass Panopticon, the individual has the advantage the prisoner did not have in the original Panopticon. The social media inclined individual can see what the companies and corporations are doing, how they are responding and how they act in the world. The individual has the ability to watch the company and respond with a post, a tweet or a video about that business. Now, let’s say Joe finds out that McDonalds is using the worst possible potatoes for their French fries. These potatoes are grown in a toxic dump and harvested by migrant workers from Eastasia. Joe can blog about it and other individuals can share the information. Corporations have to respect that the eye is on them and they can no longer hide in the tower.
So that’s where we are…in this glass Panopticon. Some might just call it transparency, but I don’t feel that’s it. I see each side getting too wrapped up in the details of everything that is social media. So while businesses and marketing entities forget the individual can see them…the individual forgets that the business and marketing entities are watching them.
We could definitely drill down and discuss the Panopticon influencing online persona or how the Panopticon is an extension of control. However, first things first, let’s realize we are watching each other and that is the most important part.