“Visibility is a trap.” It can be safely argued that those four words, written by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his discussion of the “panopticon,” were never more true than they were this year. Our visibility — defined as ubiquitous, networked digital connectedness — has at long last enabled an unprecedented surveillance state. In 2013, the negative consequences of our contemporary lifestyles were impossible to ignore.
But not just for the most obvious reason — the avalanche of revelations about the depth and scope of government spying delivered by Edward Snowden, which seized the world’s attention from June onward. The surveillance society is hardly limited to NSA spooks. We are now open books for everyone to read: Our friends and our enemies and our stalkers. Our providers of email and texting and social media and advertising and entertainment. Our employers, our doctors and our teachers. We have never been more visible, never been more willing or able to open up every moment of our existence to the outside world. And in doing so, we have handed the watchers fantastic power.