I’ve been thinking a lot about Jeremy Bentham’s concept of a panopticon over the past few weeks, as the revelations from Facebook/Cambridge Analytica show just how little those particular corporations value our privacy and how the lack of diversity at the highest levels in Silicon Valley tech firms means that the tools we have come to rely upon for so many things were created by people who aren’t vulnerable in the same way that women, people of color, queer people, and other marginalized communities are.
One of the first things I did when I got online around 1994 was to start exploring with gopher. It was through gopher that I managed to make my way to a small bbs that a guy was running out of his dorm room. I’m actually still friendly with a handful of the people I met there, but most of the people were pretty gross in what they thought of and how they treated women and other marginalized people. I know that some of those people went on to work in the tech industry.
I think about that a lot and about how whenever I spoke up about it I was told that I just shouldn’t be online–and how people are still told that when they complain about abuse online. Even though you need to be online to do an awful lot of things these days, so the suggestion that getting offline altogether is the answer is, essentially, a suggestion that you remove yourself from public life. And that’s unacceptable.