The Retropticon functions as a commentary on the pervasiveness not only of external surveillance, but also of self-surveillance. The title of the kit references not only Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon--a hypothetical architecture that allows occupants to be controlled through perpetual, perfect observation--but also Michel Foucault’s envisioned application of the Panopticon as a structure for broad social control through self-imposed surveillance in the service of disciplinary compliance.
In Foucault’s text, Discipline and Punish, he describes the panoptic social structure as being not merely imposed on individuals by external forces, but actually self-enforced; the strictures of disciplinary control are internalized by the individual out of a fear of being observed violating the social standards of behavior (and the punishment that may result). Thus, although social control is initialized by the imposition of a system upon the individual, it is ultimately constructed by and sustained within the individual.
The exercise of constructing a Retropticon refers to the significance of self-surveillance in both practice and material form. The general form--a camera--is an unambiguous reference to the technology of observation. Although it is a socially distributed design, a Retropticon is hand-made; the effort of the individual is required for construction, much as the effort of the individual ties them to disciplinary norms. The mirror contained in the Retropticon reflects only that which is visible in the aperture of the “lens”; in examining the Reropticon, the viewer reveals themselves to be the subject.
Because the Retropticon is visually identifiable as a camera-type object by its shape and surface charactaristics, once noticed, it is aggressive without being physically dangerous. By being inexpensive, small, and light, the Retropticon can be deployed easily and unobtrusively in locations that allow the element of surprise when discovered by others. It is through the mechanism of surprise that the Retropticon is able to function effectively; the process of noticing, recognizing, and investigating an installed Retropticon allows an uninitiated subject to confront the phenomena of pervasive, distributed surveillance, but also the self-imposition of that surveillance by the members of society.
User Test Notes
- Industrial designers make very good assembly testers; they have natural experience with a variety of construction methods and materials. Angie and Moto were generous enough to contribute their time and effort for construction and time lapse photography (respectively).
- The assembly of the Retropticon is, for the most part, "evil", but the product can be considered "cute".
- Circles are much easier to cut with scissors than a hobby knife.
- It may be feasible to have the components cut out with a laser cutter, which would be faster and neater than the manual method.
- Standard white glue is not optimal because glued pieces must be held together for a long time (in some cases minutes) in order for the glue to set.
- The tiny tabs on the button are a bit too tiny; it makes assembly difficult. In fact, most small details should probably be avoided because they do not offer enough pay-off for the amount of work required to add them.
- The flash assembly needs to be simplified.
- The lens assembly should probably be simplified; the lens ring components are difficult to combine neatly.
- Apparently, when I am recorded via time-lapse photography, I look like a bobblehead.
time-lapse video of kit user test on 2011-11-10
|cutting out components|
|finished Retropticon prototype|
|note the reflection visible in the Retropticon|