Internalizing the Panopticon

Spend enough time around any social group, and you internalize their rules.

In other words: Spend enough time around a group, and you’ll have a very strong feeling of what they consider acceptable. More than that, you’ll actually start to behave that way. This works the same with your family, your workplace, and probably your social networks.

As I spend more time online, I become increasingly aware of what the blogosphere’s consensus would be on any one thing I do. It has become a kind of internalized panopticon that says “this thing you are thinking can be said on Twitter, while this second thing definitely cannot.” Can you relate to that?

The strange thing is that the same could almost be said of someone who lives in a totalitarian state. Some states of mind are considered acceptable, we know which they are, and we’re careful to only express those those that won’t rock the boat. What happens when someone does this for long enough? Is it possible that, through amplifying and expressing only acceptable states, we are shutting out and stunting our ‘unacceptable’ thinking?

Whatever the reason, what is true is that we are losing our wildness. No one is interested in acid tripping their way to enlightenment anymore like Timothy Leary; no one is doing plastic surgery art on their own face like Orlan. Or are they? Is the democratization of media causing the lesser-known channels to vanish as simply-digested lolcat memes take over?

The radical is by definition marginal and unpopular, and the wildest ideas take the longest to understand. In a culture where we’re ADHD and TL;DR prone, have we lost the ability to give the radical a chance at survival?

What would happen if we were able to give ourselves access to the hinterlands of ideas, things said and done by those we can’t yet understand? Would we be excited what we saw, or relegate it to the backs of our brain, never to be thought of again? I don’t know– because I don’t know what those ideas are.

Do you?





23 responses to “Internalizing the Panopticon”

  1. Frank, The Divergent Learner Avatar

    Hi there …

    This is why I think it is important to diversify your PLN with connections from the fringe and loosely connected disciplines. Otherwise, one runs the risk of preaching to the choir or bouncing “popular” ideas around inside of the echo chambers of the in-crowd. There are definitely cliquish groups that pat each other on the back and long for recognition and association from one another. That is all fine and good, as anyone can, to a degree, decide on who they associate with.

    The truth is that exploring and embracing your fringe PLN, those from the outer reaches of your PLN is where much of the freshness and true connecting of the proverbial dots takes place. Those that myopically dwell in the tight inner-network are more of a sounding board for one another. Creatively lurks in the totality of the PLN and the out loosely connected individuals and nodes are essential to expand thought and innovation … or just keep things truly

    Abundance is all around us, if only we choose to be ambiguous enough to “see” it.


  2. Carlene Worthington Avatar
    Carlene Worthington

    It is nice to hear someone else express my observations. This thought can also be expanded into speech patterns and jargonistic language. People feel better about themselves and their place in the society in which they interact when they look and act like they fit in. Being a perpetual outsider is very stressful and lonely even with the benefits of individualistic thought. Anyway, I wax long so will end my comment. Thank you for your insight. Enjoy!

  3. Pallav Avatar

    I don’t watch TV. I don’t have a TV and I get a lot of ideas, for this or that, for everything. I think by distancing ourselves from any single form of media, we can tap into some unconscious part of our minds and get cool ideas.

    Or maybe we can do a lot of drugs and get fucked outta our wits.

    Thoughtful post.

  4. Nicholas Z. Cardot Avatar

    I was getting ready to ask you for an example of what you were talking about but then I arrived at your last paragraph.

    “I don’t know what those ideas are. Do you?”

    I don’t either. But I’m curious to think of them. I suppose that it’s those men in women who aren’t afraid to think outside the box who end up developing the products and services that become so popular.

    This is a great article. It’s very thought provoking.

  5. Keith Avatar

    I am not as deeply involved in social media as many, but I really don’t feel this is apt.

    I think it’s more a matter of framing – of choosing our audience. Much as there are things we wouldn’t say at the dinner table as a child, there are things we don’t say in Twitter.

    The audience, the time, the place, and the way the idea are framed are chosen.

    There are some ideas which are spurred by certain company, and some that only arrive when we are alone. It’s important then that we don’t spend all of our time in the crowd both online and at home. It’s important to choose our company wisely.

    We have new opportunities to be in the company of other people almost all of the time, through social media, but the same old principles apply.

  6. John McLachlan Avatar

    Wow. That’s a deep one, Julien. It’s kind of a radical post in itself.

    You’re the author of a best-selling book. You’re supposed to tell us what to think (just kidding).

    I don’t know about the hinterland ideas. I sometimes have them and when I express them, they usually get shot down. Also when you get older, there’s an invisible force that can creep in and make you more timid to express radical ideas. I hate that. I hate when I get timid.

    In one of my work contracts, I administer arts granting programs (I pull together a jury and work with the funder to present all the applications for review and approval or rejection).

    My “hinterland idea” is to live tweet at the meetings what all the jurors are saying about each application. That way, it’s totally transparent. Alas, this idea was soundly squashed.

    It’s fear that kills hinterland ideas from seeing the light of day. Too bad.

  7. Alan Rae Avatar

    The world is a casino

    As in – if you play the game by the rules you’re going to lose

    You have to find a way to live on your own terms – that’s all that matters. That’s why my company is called Free Spirits Ltd.

    Well that’s my opinion at least

  8. Don VP Avatar
    Don VP

    Are you in effect suggesting that we are creating a form of group think in the blogosphere?

  9. Colleen Coplick Avatar

    That’s exactly right…took you articulating it for me to understand how to explain what i feel is inherent.

    Looking forward to seeing you (again, finally – it’s only been since Sx2008!!) at 3T in Vancouver!

  10. Ken Montville Avatar

    Ummm. This is normally called getting along in society. Without adhering to some agreed upon norms we would all be running wild and crazy without any order. In other words, chaos. To some, chaos may be a good choice to “shake things up” but, for me, I like a little orderliness. This means I’m willing to withhold ad hominem attacks, listen and try to understand and, perhaps, eat turkey and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving.

    Yes, we internalize the rules. Even when the rules state that there are no rules.

  11. Malcolm Bastien Avatar

    First, I always use Cursebird as a measure of my success on Twitter:

    Sometimes I do feel challenged in fulfilling the expectations of tone and content, so I spice it up. On top of that, radical changes every now and then filled in by steady evolutions of sources of information, inspiration, and interests help to keep me from killing myself due to boredom or frustration.

    What you see in the democratized world are cheap versions of everybody else. Versions of people that only exist to get along with everybody else.

    I’m trying to digest your message as best I can. A close friend of mine would always say it’s all a symptom of these people’s need for external validation. Society doesn’t need you to get along with it. I mean, as an influencer you would expect that you could do whatever you want, and at least a small margin of your followers would journey with you through it all.

  12. Sean Clark Avatar


    Boy, that one should keep me thinking well into the New Year. One of those 52 books wasn’t by Bertrand Russell was it?

    Anyway in answer to your question, it is not the ideas of others that should excite us but those of our own we have yet to discover. We drive what is acceptable, like the use of language;), as much as driving how much and what we discover. Radical ideas are what drive discovery, unacceptable states are what lead to reformation.

    Instead of trying to copy or conform we should always be looking to change and challenge. Take the best bits from others and build on them to create a new Twitter, Facebook or even blogging technology that nobody has yet discovered.

    Do this with passion and you know the end result…

    Happy New Year

  13. Peter Korchnak Avatar

    You speak of a natural human tendency. It’s how we construct our individual identities and how groups (society) assert control over their members. We want to belong and so we internalize the narrative of the group we’re interacting with. Conversely, reiterating what is acceptable and ridiculing what isn’t is how groups work to assure their continuation and cohesion.

    Stepping out of these group dynamics first requires the awareness that this is the case. Thanks for spreading that word with this post. Paradoxically, those who manage to articulate heretical ideas and build a following behind them start the same dynamic they attempted to leave behind. Like I said, it’s only natural…

  14. Lucy Griffiths Avatar
    Lucy Griffiths

    Self-censorship in the public space is something humans have practised for centuries, and I agree that it has taken new form it has taken in our online interactions. What you’re describing is, I believe, the result of two things.

    Firstly, the removal of the physical and some of the sensory elements of social interactions online.

    Secondly, the increased ability to control our online persona(s).

    Although this self-styling may result in a stifling of certain aspects of our personalities, I’d argue that it can also be a positive force, allowing us the freedom to be creative and radical without the social consequences that we might expect in the physical world.

  15. Jlyeff Yablon Avatar

    Julien, that was both troubling and thought provoking. Hopefully a always leads to b, rather than to c (shutting down).

    I’m hearing you say that despite being the great expert that you are (supposed to be?), you realize you don’t “get it” . . . either.

    It occurs to me that in doing all the things that those of us in YOUR self-selecting community are doing regular, we don’t have a real plan at all. Yikes!

    Err . . . or maybe that’s OK. I think it’s called “life”

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  16. Dustin Coates Avatar


    There’s a difference between being civil and going along with what everyone else is thinking and that’s what I think Julien is getting at here.

    I think it’s very important to maintain close contact with people outside of your industry. I don’t mean just reading their blogs or following them on Twitter. In fact, if you work in online marketing, you need to find people who aren’t on Twitter (here’s a hint: that’s most people). I see it everytime I’m at a conference: there are people who are otherwise terribly intelligent in that field who have no idea how people outside of the field think–and that’s a huge problem when it’s your job to speak to/with them.

  17. Ellie Becker Avatar

    Radicalism is unsustainable. The first things I ever got paid to write were 3-minute radio scripts for nutrition/vitamin supplement guru Adelle Davis. She was a complete radical – bucking the medical mainstream. Guess what? She lived in Southern CA and dropped acid with her neighbor Timothy Leary. Wild. Haven’t seen a mention of him for decades. You’d never expect that this buttoned-up-looking woman would drop acid if you saw her on the street. But she did with her husband and Dr. Leary because they were all radical experimenters. As individuals, they rose and crashed to earth like Roman candles. The ideas they spawned still live. Like them, we radicalized children of the 60’s lit a fire of protest that changed history. And then we faded back into the mainstream. That’s ok. The takeaway is that you don’t have to be radical for long to make an impact. You can be serially and periodically radical. It’s less exhausting — and it’s a lot more fun!!

  18. Mary H Ruth Avatar

    Oh gee, I was just thinking about this today. The web’s more stultified than an Edwardian parlor. There are only certain things – a very limited number – that are acceptable to say. There is only one acceptable language (at least in business).

    Of course, there’s also potential for utter chaos, a chthonic disaster. So caution may well be advised. The question remains – how to synthesize individual experience with the web’s mainstreaming.

  19. Al Avatar

    Interesting post but to be honest nothing really new. I remember these same conversations from high school over 20 years ago. You are preaching to the choir for the most part, not really motivating.

    The fact things are going more online is not really relevant. We all look for a common bond in everything we do. BBS’s back in the day are no different than “social” sites of today.

    To poster Ken,think organized chaos, not chaos.

  20. karim kanji Avatar

    Interesting commentary.

    Even when we belong to radical groups we usually conform to their behaviour.

    I guess the question/answer would be to be true to oneself without having to conform to anything or anybody.


  21. Antwon Davis Avatar

    This post makes me think of Hugh MacLeod’s book – “Ignore Everybody”. We are very prone to assimilate and adapt to certain ways of thinking and behaving in order to be accepted. This is common behavior for the majority of any species. However, there are always a few who break away from the mold – risking ridicule, abandonment, and even murder – who are usually the ones to create a new way of thinking and behaving. I think the decision lies in which one do each of us choose to be? Adaptors or Innovators? In most cases, we will innately adapt, but I think there is a freedom in taking that risk and ignoring everybody, especially when it’s necessary (ie. Bill Gates, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, etc.).

    I recently wrote a post similar to this topic after watching the movie *Avatar*.

    Check it out:

    Great post by the way.

  22. Jason Avatar

    Holy fricken vocabulary porn, a social panopticon that excludes simple language has been built within these comments.

  23. B.C. von Haack Avatar
    B.C. von Haack

    “No one is interested in acid tripping their way to enlightenment anymore like Timothy Leary.”

    I beg to differ as I am a practicing pyschonaut. Drugs like DMT, LSD, and psilocybin are a great tool for expanding your mind and enlightening the self. Though some aspects can be quite terrifying at first, each experience is like a new revelation unto yourself. If you have any mental anxiety or psychiatric problems such as depression, these drugs will force you to confront your psyche and should leave you with a new understanding of any problems you might have. Even a terrifying experience can bee highly enlightening and once you can break free from the social dogmas that keep you stuck in this form of “reality” These drugs can show you the god within and over time you will realize the illusory nature of life and death, and good and evil and how it all truly is a dream/bullshit lie. Meditation works great too if you don’t have the courage to step into the world of psychedelics. It takes a strong mind to transcend life, death and the “real” world as we know it. This world is an illusion and we are but a social experiment of language, ethics and order, all of which are just figments of our expression. Oh yes you would like to think that this a free world, but it is far from it. Yes we have lost our wild side through the conditioning of an oppressive government that floods the world with fake shit to watch while our minds rot away believing that this world is free in any sense of the word. We have enough food and “money” to make humanity a working existence, but this obviously will never happen as the government can’t run without fear tactics like “terrorism” and enslaving the people through meaningless unfulfilling jobs while the politicians get to reside in their kingdoms of hell. Thoughts are just another form of language and your body is an illusion to make you think that you are an independent being. You flash in multicolored patterns and even your thoughts aren’t safe from the illusion of life around you. I would advise to keep language out of your mind because once you think a word it has already been heard. Language is just an illusion made to divide thought from action and keep you second guessing yourself, and also to keep you believing the lie of life itself. The more you think about life the more you realize how much of a bullshit story it really is. It’s like some queer is trying to sell peace, love and understanding through slavery, coercion and dominance. Oh and did I mention brain-washing.

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