Put a crystal ball between his hands and call him a fortune teller: in 1984, George Orwell left his prediction for the future, and it couldn't have been more spot-on. Big Brother is watching you.
In this day and age, it would be difficult to materialize this concept, but the truth is that we are living it in a slightly different way. Instead of being centralized, this vigilant authority is fragmented, spread not only by the electronic devices we use every day, but in stores, in restaurants, on the streets, and instead of feeling threatened, we are submissive and, in a way, we desire this omnipresent observation. The logic is compelling: I'm going to be bombarded with ads on social media, so I might as well let myself be analyzed and have content tailored to my needs. The problem with this digital panopticon is that it goes through much more than collecting and storing our Internet searches, the more haunting issue is that all the devices that make our lives easier somehow have this catch. And, come to think of it, there's hardly a device that doesn't treat data like the most valuable currency on the market: we use apps that record our sleep patterns, smartbands that store our vital values, artificial intelligences that have access to the speakers and lamps in our house, electronic punching bags that adjust the intensity of the training based on our physical strength and even vibrators that store in an app all masturbation sessions. Put it this way, it becomes unpleasant - and somewhat repugnant - to have such intimate information recorded somewhere on the Internet, but the fact is that this omniscient and omnipresent authority has benefits that many of us are not willing to give up. After all, unlocking your phone with your fingerprint or face is a must-have convenience, even if it means that Apple knows us better than we know ourselves. It is practically a given that thousands of these small companies are watching us via cell phones, computers, and smart devices. When it comes to government institutions, on the other hand, it is rather more difficult to find evidence of a panopticon - with the exception of CCTV. Although these are often private security cameras from stores, offices, or even installed at the entrance of residential buildings, we know that the state easily has access to this footage for judicial purposes. Even if the recordings are not all handed over to a state entity, the fact is that, adding up all the CCTV cameras, the likelihood is that we are being filmed practically all the time. The only place we can get away from the lens is in the comfort of our own home, and yet some people have this surveillance even indoors.
Closed-circuit has its advantages too - right from the start, it's thanks to surveillance cameras that YouTube is full of compilations of catches, funny falls and fails. When it comes to our security, CCTV has the potential to make a difference in the judicial system (in an ideal world where bureaucracy would be significantly reduced). When used in court, this footage has the power to exonerate or convict someone, and a study done in 2019 proves the influence of this evidence: according to researchers Anthony Morgan and Christopher Dowling, in Australia cases in which CCTV is requested and used in court are substantially more likely to be solved. In fact, a bus surveillance camera was crucial in finding Sarah Everard, the young English woman who was raped and killed by a police officer in March 2021. Whether on a macro level (for generalized security) or on a micro level (in the little day-to-day facilitations), constant surveillance has its benefits. Okay, we are capable of seeing the good side of such a digital panopticon, but in recent years we have witnessed the transformation of this paradigm that, besides conditioning our privacy, has been adapted to become a source of entertainment. We think of everything that is reality TV, Big Brother and its variants: a group of people lock themselves in a house for months and there is a channel on TV where we can follow everything that happens inside through surveillance cameras. And the fact is that this is a type of content that many people make a point of following - the premiere of the new season of the Portuguese edition of Big Brother, last September 11, was watched by over a million viewers. Even fiction itself is already making parodies of this meta-reality, in which we, real people, watch fictional characters watching another fictional character, whose life is broadcasted 24 hours a day through cameras in everything and anything (we are talking about “The Truman Show”, the comedy that keeps alerting us to this highly realistic and realizable situation). In a world where we are all Truman Burbank in one way or another, shouldn't we, too, want to get off the set? Maybe not. We have nothing to hide, and personally I don't feel ready to go back to the archaic pre-app age where I had to write down, on a paper agenda, when my period came.
Translated from the original on The Butterfly Effect issue from Vogue Portugal, published October 2022.
Full story and credits on the print issue.