This image attracted a lot of attention around the web today:
The text on the left is from a story in the Washington Post which discusses the FBI’s ability to exploit laptop cameras without enabling the indicator light. The text on the right is from Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four discussing the dystopian state’s capability to view any given citizen unknowingly through their telescreen. (The comparison was tweeted out by @tinyrevolution.)
To which we can add:
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, page 201.
This was originally published (in French) in 1975, well after Orwell’s book. So Orwell was first with the idea? Not so fast! Foucault is discussing the ideas of the social reformer Jeremy Bentham, who proposed the idea of the “panopticon” (all-seeing) in the late 18th century. According to one history, there are at least 300 prisons worldwide built on panoptic principles. You can see a classic illustration here.
So did Orwell know of Bentham? I presume so. Orwell was an educated and well-read man, but I’ll leave it to Orwell scholars to verify this. Update. Stuart Elden notes that prior to Foucault’s recovery of Bentham’s text it was only available in English in a late 18th century edition. If so, this makes it less likely Orwell knew of Bentham.
Update II. Here’s the Google Ngram trace of the word “panopticon” used in books. As you can see, its usage really took after 1984 (the date, not the book). You can also see very nicely an earlier spike in the late 1830s and early 1840s. (I would guess around the building of prisons on panoptic lines, such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, opened in 1829 and mentioned by Foucault in D&P.)