The Google Glass Panopticon

Today’s post is a guest post by Joe Bodie regarding the concept of Google Glass. Thanks Joe for the insights!


Google Glass is almost here. Augmented reality. Life 2.0. These are the terms used by marketing departments. Simple, concise, black line strokes on white backgrounds. But Google Glass does much more than augment reality. It is anything but simple. Glass fundamentally alters reality and our experience of it, relegating the real to the realm of digital simulation. The implications of a radical paradigm-shift of this kind are far-reaching, impacting diverse fields of study (metaphysics, ethics, sociology, ect). Numerous articles could be, and should be, written on the subject, each focusing on ramifications peculiar to specific areas. But for an article of this size and scope, it is prudent to limit the discussion to one particularly illuminating example: the Panopticon.

The notion of the Panopticon was first developed by Jeremy Bentham. Conceived as an architectural model for the ideal prison, the Panopticon was built so that each inmate is always visible to all the others (in separate ‘cells’) and each inmate is always visible to a monitor situated in a central tower. Monitors will not in fact always see each inmate; the point is that they could at any time. Since inmates never know whether they are being observed, they must act as if they are always objects of observation. (Gutting)Panopticon

The all-seeing eye of the monitor is, theoretically, the perfect system of observation and control. However, since this level of perfection is rarely, if ever, possible, the theory is augmented and in its stead placed a hierarchical system of observers, relaying observational data from lower to higher levels in a linear trajectory.  The fact that a central monitor is replaced by a linear system of observers is irrelevant. The endgame is the same: observation equals control.

The French theorist Michel Foucault believed Bentham’s Panopticon to be the “model for control of an entire society, with factories, hospitals, and schools” all constructed on the maxim that observation equals control. (Gutting) And rightfully so. Modern societies have long lived under the fear of observation, which in turn creates a system of self-regulation. Be careful what you do, someone is watching.

Google Glass destroys this mode of observational control first through implosion and then through diffusion.

In a Google world, populated and permeated by Glass-wearers, both the all-seeing monitor and the linear trajectory of observers disappear. The inmate and the monitor cease to be two separate entities. They are no longer two distinct and mutually exclusives nouns. Instead, the two terms become one as the Panopticon collapses in on itself, collapses and coalesces in on the absolute monitor: the user. This is the implosion.

These monitor/inmate users record, create, and upload data as they themselves are recorded, created, and uploaded as data, which will in turn be observed by more monitor/inmate users. The system sustains itself by an exponential and infinite expansion within itself. There is nothing outside of it anymore. This is the diffusion.

The combined effects of the implosion and diffusion are how Google Glass goes far beyond simply augmenting reality. Simply put, there is no more real. There is only the construction of the digital, the simulation of the real through a system of interconnected and interdependent users. Google Glass heralds the full realization of the hyperreal simulacra, the copy for which there is no original. It is a paradigm shift; it is an epoch. Whether it is innocuous or inimical is debatable. Whether it is inevitable is not.



Works Cited

Gutting, Gary, “Michel Foucault”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.




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  • Rachel Helie

    I’ve been saying it for years…the singularity is upon us

  • With Glass there is transparency – the user is able to plainly see, there are no smoke and mirrors. Heh. Apple may have claim to “i”-dentity, but Google is doing them one-better with the eye.

  • Rather than Foucault I would say Baudrillard is a better source for the inversion of the panopticon that is predicted with the mass marketing of Google Glass. I am not sure if the product itself will be so universal but it is clear the non-symbolic real, existing outside the chain of signification, is taking a beating at the hands of the Glass spectacle.