IDP camp, internet cafe, or participatory panopticon?


Fulbright scholar Jon Marino, reports on the use of the web in the Coo Pe IDP Camp in Uganda.

Take a walk through Coo Pe IDP Camp (Coo Pe literally means “no men” in Acholi/Luo) in northern Uganda and you are liable to stumble across something that may surprise you.  Thanks to Project BOSCO, residents of Coo Pe have access to the internet, either via a wireless network, or by using a solar-powered PC stationed in the camp.

He writes that the project was, “initially conceived as an emergency-response system that would give camp residents the power to share the oppression they were experiencing at the hands of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government with the outside world. However, now that relative peace has returned to the region, the technology is helping people with the rebuilding process. Farmers are using the wiki to share ideas about re-introducing crops. Human rights monitors are using it to highlight corruption and abuse. Schools are using it to access online newspapers for free.”

The rise of the participatory panopticon

This is another excellent example, like the Kakuma News Reflector, of IT tools empowering people from the ground up.  Futurist Jamais Cacao suggests that, taken to its logical conclusion, this trend could soon result in something like world-wide, voluntary, mega-monitoring of all our daily activities.  And not by Big Brother, but by ourselves, for our own various ends.

In The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon, he writes,

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 wherever 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, even sharing.And we will be doing it to ourselves.

This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily.

I call this world the Participatory Panopticon.

Implications for aid and development futures

This has both exciting and terrifying implications for development and aid provision.  At the recent HFP Stakeholder’s Forum, a participant raised the question, “what would happen if aid agencies and their insurers instituted mandatory drug testing of all field employees?  How many of us are on anti-depressants and stimulants and what impact would this have on staffing?”  

Another issue raised was the ever increasing efforts for HQ to control field workers through such technological means.  What if every action was being recorded and could later be used for investigation, inquiry, or even law suits?  

Although the prospect has many positive aspects, such as better monitoring of human rights abuses, exposure of corruption and graft, etc., the participatory panopticon is clearly a powerful and game-changing trend which could fundamentally alter the way aid is planned, delivered, and received.


2 Responses to IDP camp, internet cafe, or participatory panopticon?

  1. Sean Lowrie says:

    Assuming we have sufficient resources (i.e. energy), this new participatory panopticon world (not a nice metaphor) will change the aid game. I see the disruption more resulting from the infrastructure for people to collaborate without the mediation of aid agencies.

    The original Panopticon was radical architecture – a jail that enabled jail wardens to observe prisoners without themsevles being seen. In theory, this created an environment where power was exerted over the prisoner’s minds.

    I’m curious about whether a Participatory Panopticon would be in two directions. HQ could monitor field staff behaviour for abominations like corruption or sexual exploitation. Equally, field staff could monitor the behaviour of HQ for egregious manifestations of organisational self-interest, or careerism at the expense of aid effectiveness.

  2. Noah says:

    I love it, field monitoring HQ! But what power would they have? A general strike would cost lives.

    As David King recently said, “humiliation is the best weapon in politics”. See the recent furor over the Home Secretary’s husband using state expenses to watch porn.

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