What Happens If We Are Always Being Watched

10th April 2019

My home country of the UK is the most watched nation on earth.

There are more CCTV cameras there per person than anywhere else on earth (one camera for every 11 people according to BSIA estimates).

People are also being watched online constantly, whether it’s by Google’s tracking, Facebook’s Pixel or Government anti-terror monitors. So what happens to us psychologically and as a society when almost all of our actions are being watched, tracked or monitored.

A good starting point might be looking at Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the panopticon. Jeremy Bentham was the philosopher responsible for Utilitarianism (“the best thing to do is that which brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people”). In the 18th century he developed architectural plans for the panopticon, which was a prison building that would have a single watchtower with one way mirrors on all sides so that it can see directly into every cell. Prisoners can always see the watchtower, but they don’t know if the guards are looking back at them, so the only way to go about business is to assume that you could be watched at any time.

The problem is that humans are not designed to be constantly watched, and being under constant surveillance leads to significant rises in mental illness. The problem is that we are doing this in our society all the time.

  • At work we are watched to make sure we’re working (even though this demonstrably decreases our productivity)
  • Our every second on every website is tracked by our browser.
  • Every financial decision we make is tracked by a number of government and third party institutions to create profiles of our spending habits.

Privacy is important to human health, so is there any wonder that mental illness (particularly anxiety) is on the rise when we’re always on the business end of a camera?



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