Little Brothers and the Rebels’ Island

*Update*: There’s a long and interesting discussion in the comments’ section, including Jamais Cascio, the man behind the Mic


“Soon, probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two, we’ll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience, will be recorded everywhere we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed or unremembered; our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis and even sharing. And we’ll be doing it to ourselves”


So starts a daunting yet highly important and certainly interesting lecture by Jamais Cascio, who describes a future where everything will be not only recorded but also verified, a future governed not by a single “Big Brother”, but rather by billions of little brothers and sisters that will voluntarily and eagerly capture, upload, share and explore sights, scenes and conversations using their ubiquitous multi-modal, nomadic, capturing devices (and see the previous post on Anina and the Nomads).

As Jamais Cascio points out, this is a world where lies are almost impossible, and errors are detected on the spot, hence dramatically reduced. How can you lie if you are constantly recorded by multiple devices? How can the recordings be tempered if hundreds of different recording devices are creating hundreds different representations of the same event? It’s practically impossible. You can temper one or two, you can destroy another couple, but you cannot fight the statistics of an infinite number of recorders.

In other words, we’re creating a world of timeless (real-time) truth, which is what we’ve always been after, at least since Plato.

Personally, I think it’s the right moment for a Cyberpunk time-out (more to be posted soon in my alter-blog, and seeds could well be found already here)


podcastIcon.gif Jamais Cascio: Participatory Panopticon, 37:09 min, May 2nd, 2005

Original Podlink: Jamais Cascio: Participatory Panopticon

technorati1.jpg Technorati Panopticon, Technorati the Podlink


14 Responses to “Little Brothers and the Rebels’ Island”

  1. Robert Says:

    This is the podcast that got me interested in IT Conversations to begin with! Who would have thought that the one behind all those screens in first Matrix movie would’ve been us (not the Architect)? I’ve yet to read it yet, but since I know I’m getting Donald Kingsbury’s “Psychohistorical Crisis” for Xmas, I thought I’d tie it in as an example of taking away one’s connect to The Net as punishment.
    I really glombed onto Jamais’ idea that friendships are based on forgetting past wrongs, but the panopticon may make that impossible. Can justice and reconsiliation ever happen in a world where no wrong-doing can ever be erased?

  2. Muli Koppel Says:

    Hi Robert,
    In a world where memories are never lost and every movement is recorded, life, human life, is a nightmare. Justice? Forgiveness? these words will cease to exist.

  3. Robert Says:

    I thought part of what Jamais was saying is that it’s *not* a nightmare: it’s an unconscious goal of our society. When everyone watches “Reality TV” and blogs and YouTube are all valued for their “realism” then the Participatory Panopticon is just the function of our obscessions taken to the limit. As Jamais said, this “future” is just a tool for planning and thinking. The main reason it won’t come to pass is that is just takes into account what a small segment of the populations wishes. The ‘Net is the Printing Press 2.0. Everything being recorded is just a new society developement, changing the world as unpredictably as Gutenburg miraculous invention.

  4. Muli Koppel Says:

    Hi Robert,

    I’m glad for this discussion.

    I take Jamais’ lecture as ‘presenting the facts’, leaving the moral, ethical, and existential judgment to us, along with the deeper, and more intriguing understanding of “why are we doing it to ourselves?” – a drive that you’ve attributed to our collective unconsciousness (which is not an argument I can cope with; I’d like to suggest other arguments, but in other time).

    Now, historically, the concept of “Panopticon” has been created (Bentham) and used (Orwell, McLuhan, Foucalut…) as a symbol for a cost-effective mean of control in a form of a psychological manipulation, that which is based on the ‘Omnipresent Gaze’, i.e. the sheer understanding and consequent apprehension that “someone’s watching you”. And historically again, those inside the panopticon are prisoners, i.e. deprived from their basic human right to freedom, or in other words, deprived from what makes them human.

    Inside the panopticon, a subject (human) turns into an object.

    In the digital panopticon, this process is even more tangible, visible. Organic creatures are turning into bits. Microsoft’s Lifebits project has a motto “I am Data”.

    Data shouldn’t be bothered with organic notions of forgiveness, justice, or virtues and ethics in general. Data is Data.

    We’re living now the same dialectic of control that has always taken place: web2.0 started as an uprising, has been identified by the control powers as an effective way to regain control, and then the reaction came in the form of everybody2.0 and the all encompassing digitization, a process in which we will all become real-time data.

    Well, Robert, you made me say much more than I thought I would. See u around, and a happy new year,

  5. Jamais Cascio Says:

    As Muli says, my attempt was to present the facts, and allow the listeners/readers to draw their own ethical conclusions.

    As for justice and reconciliation, they will remain possible — but I think that the participatory panopticon world will have to remember the concept of forgiveness.

  6. Muli Koppel Says:

    Hi Jamais

    I really am interested in understanding why do you think that Justice is possible in the PP world, given the axiom, that you have so well presented, that real-time recordings of events and statistical correlation of those recordings will yield a world of “Truth”.

    In a world of Truth, lies will become outdated. Eventually, wrong-doings will become extinct. Even our thoughts will become as pure as the snow, as already today NASA is capable of translating subvocal muscles movement, invoked by thought processes, into text (hence, capable of transmitting our thoughts, in real-time, to the main PP servers).

    As I understand it, we will become zombies, deprived of free will, deprived of choice!

    We all agree that Good, Just and all the other virtues exist only because their antipodes vices exist just the same. The mission of the PP is to annihilate those antipodes, and with that, everything will fall.

    Again, Jamais, if you’d be kind and spare one more comment here, explaining how justice is possible in a world of Truth, I’d be most grateful (and probably also reassured in regards to our expected panopticon cells)


  7. Jamais Cascio Says:


    Have you ever seen the Akira Kurosawa movie, “Rashoman”? It tells the story of a simple crime, as witnessed by a half-dozen people.. except each person has his or her own interpretation of what has transpired, even when they agree on the facts.

    The PP world won’t be one of “Truth,” but one where lying is more difficult because facts are easier to establish. Note that I don’t say that lying is impossible — it won’t be, and I fully expect clever young people to figure out ways to bend the system to make it possible to get away with the kinds of wrong-doing that pundits have declared to have been eliminated. As a simple example: if everyone expects that you won’t do something bad because it will be recorded, they have less incentive to check up on you — making it *easier* to get away with doing something bad!

    This doesn’t contradict what I say in my talk — my emphasis is on how these tools add a layer of complexity to our relationships that we currently don’t experience.

    You don’t need to worry about the NASA-type tools to read subvocalizations: those read active, conscious muscle movements, not brain activity. That won’t lead us to a world of mind-reading, fortunately.

    To put it plainly: the technology will record visible activity, not thoughts and intent; this will make individuals more accurate witnesses as to the apparent facts of an event, not to its underlying motives and context. These systems will be just as prone to abuse, error and misuse as any other technology, and while they may render some forms of misbehavior and malevolence obsolete, they will surely open up new forms and opportunities, as well. When it comes to evaluating the behavior of others, context, interpretation and wisdom will still matter — and will remain the kernel of real justice.

  8. Jamais Cascio Says:

    (ack, the movie title is “Rashomon,” not “Rashoman” — please forgive the typo)

  9. Muli Koppel Says:

    Hi Jamais

    As we’re not yet in the PP world, forgiveness for your typo is hereby granted.

    Rashomon is an excellent analogy, and I will use it now, with your permission, to further explain my take. There is one more point (at least) to add to the description of the future: anything (i.e. any recorded event) will be correlated (i.e. graphically [graph theory] and semantically linked) to anything else, and therefore Rashomonism, or Interpretation, will become futile and impotent; for Interpretation presumes hidden meaning, or truism not yet discovered, only that this can only happen when there’s a frame, that which limits our vision while explicitly insinuating for an out-of-frame existence.

    Yet the PP world (and I think that we should switch now to a more general definition of the PP world, let’s say: a digital world that reflects, in real-time, any event occurring both in the digital world as well as in the organic world in which we live today; moreover, all those real-time reflections are immediately correlated to all other reflections) has no frame, or rather, the frame of the PP world, because of its inherent inter/hyper-textuality, has an infinite frame, that leaves no place for interpretation. “There is nothing outside of the (Bit)Text”.

    My take is that the Frame is what keeps us human. Paradoxically, I find myself back in the cave. But isn’t it why anything else is just a footnote for Plato? Paradoxes

    As for those “clever young people who’d figure out ways to bend the system” – although this has been insinuated already in the title of this post, i.e. the Rebels’ Island, let’s not forget the rest of us – 99% ordinary beings that want to realize their happiness without hacking the matrix! (And I recon that this wish, in light of the previous paragraph, is also a paradox, for the Matrix provides the illusion of a world in which we can fulfill our happiness, hence there’s no need to hack it down). Yet still, are we building a future were we would have to rely on Hackers to bend the system in order to regain our freedom, or should we introduce, right now, straight into the blueprints of the future PP, those chaotic mechanisms, those safe-guards, that will prevent the future from becoming a frame-less, un-Rashomon-able world?

    There are much more ethical concerns in the future PP world which I will not discuss here, and yet the whole issue is of an extreme importance to us all, yet what I mostly see in the entire web2.0 zeitgeist is the careless joy of self-digitization (to which MyLifeBits project is an emblem), with only scarce voices pointing out to the potential danger and pleading for precautions to be placed inside (and I don’t refer to the Identity2.0 movement here, which, imho, fosters the process of self-digitization and the becoming a digital object, rather than a human being).

    Happy new year,

    p.s. my sincere excuses for the length of this comment. I hope it will be forgiven.

  10. ecko4inc Says:

    And death shall have no dominion.
    Dead men naked they shall be one
    With the man in the wind and the west moon;
    When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
    They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
    Though they go mad they shall be sane,
    Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
    Though lovers be lost love shall not;
    And death shall have no dominion.
    Dylan Thomas

    It is more the interior, epistemilogical panoptickon (religious fundamentalism is an example) that frightens me more than any actual panoptickon for there is always a framing, a border between the visible and the invisible, saccading in the field. There will always be poetry and prose even if we play with the differance, being as we are amidst the waves upon a sea of eternal becoming…

    I’ve really had too much coffee this morning

  11. Muli Koppel Says:


    Grab another last cup of coffee before you leave – it won’t do any more damage – and read my last comment, the one before yours.

    The Participatory Panopticon world abolishes the Frame.

    There’s nothing outside of the text. Derrida
    Behind the curtain there’s nothing to see. Deleuze
    You’re just in another box, in another box. DJ Spooky, who generously allows us to keep, at least, the illusion of discovering a brave new world.

    You’d say (I know you won’t, but still): but these are old voices you’re bringing in; the PP is a bra[ve|nd] new(! its’ new!) world, so how could these deads be used to justify any contemporary take, as certainly they were not referring to what we’re referring to today, in our new time capsule?

    I’ll go grab my own coffee now, thanks for passing by.

  12. ecko4inc Says:


    I say…

    The will to truth is a horrible and terrifying thing. Witness the destructive power of the atom bomb. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are sins against humanity. But I remember reading this book about Richard Feynman, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan project and when the other scientists were objectively recording the first detonation in the desert, Feynman was watching with a child-like wonder, the cloud mushrooming into the sky, saying to himself, beautiful, beautiful…

    I think you’ve misunderstood my comment.

    I really don’t know what to make of yours either, Muli. I read your comments – all of them – from the top to the bottom before posting my own two sense worth. I’m no technophile as you seem to imply. In fact I’m probably too naive to comment on these information technologies – PP and such like – which is why I thought I’d be on pretty safe territory isolating the concept of the panoptickon and quoting dead poets, in keeping with my felicitous habit of throwing things out there into the blogosphere.

    We’re all here to go into space.

    Derrida writes, “there’s nothing outside the text” in the context of the metaphysical original sovereignty of the author, the full presence of a subject who always says exactly what he or she means. If people participating believe they are presenting themselves as whole beings in PP, well, let them eat cake. “I’m not a whole person. Youre not a whole person. If we were whole and complete, we would just be sitting in the corner, being whole.” Lacan

    Of grammatology: “To make enigmatic what one thinks one understands by the words ‘proximity,’ ‘immeadiacy,’ ‘presence’ (the proximate, the own and the pre- of presence), is my final intention in this book.” Deconstruction undermines the whole PP project of subjectification as I understand Derrida so, hey, I’m on your side.

    To paraphrase Deleuze, its not a matter of hoping for the best or fearing the worst but of finding new weapons, creating lines of flight, making new connections… though sometimes those lines of flight will fall into black holes – too much gravity

    Another time capsule (is a drug, is a pharmakon, is present in the system that swallows it – involuted – caffeine, brain stimulant, speedy – wait wait time is a landing field) brought to you by ecko4inc

    I am emale – what the hell do I know?


  13. Muli Koppel Says:

    Sure thing ecko – I know you’re on my side, and you can count on me in trying to find out those new tools, only that:
    1. you said that there’s a frame, while I suspect the PP world is going to abolish this thing, becoming a frame-less world. It creates new categories of reference, and –
    2. In order to find those Deleuzian tools one has to reckon first where he’s going to, which is what “I” is trying to do here.

    so we’re on the same page emale – a slight misunderstanding, undoubtedly the result of too many cut-ups and fold-ins…

  14. ecko4inc Says:

    “‘I’ is a necessary fiction.” Derrida

    “Necessity is that in virtue of which it is impossible for one to do otherwise.” Joyce

    “The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.’… the state was invented for the superfluous.” Thus spake Zarathustra

    Hey – I’m just an emale trying to make my own way in the virtual universe… its a brave new world for I am emale, this we(-)blog business; sometimes I get so fired up, I forget myself: sit venia verbo.

    Of course, we both find this kind of (frame)work necessary… trying to think outside the box, to encapsulate the exteriority of thought, we question the state of affairs in the tradition of the masters of suspicion. Blog on, muli

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