• Opinion
  • 21 de May de 2024
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  • 7 minutes read

The panopticon in your pocket

The panopticon in your pocket

The panopticon in your pocket

It is an algorithm that never rests, that operates continuously. It captures your data. Your life

Plan, elevation and section of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, drawn by Willey Reveley in 1791. / Wikimedia

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Antoni Hernández-Fernández


As a native of Barcelona, La Modelo has always been a symbol for me. In my childhood it inspired in me an unusual respect, beyond the mere notion of a prison. As I grew up, I realised that this respect was, in fact, an inherited fear, inherited from a family that fought on the defeated side in the Civil War. This fear was later reinforced by horrific events such as the execution of Salvador Puig Antich, which took place there in 1974, fifty years ago on 2 March. From the initial motto of the penitentiary at the beginning of the 20th century, In severitate humanitas, which advocated a Model with a correctional, rehabilitative and reintegrative vocation, it became a Model in the service of Francoism. However, let’s stop this nonsense: prisons detain those who do not comply with the prevailing laws. If the lawmaker is a dictator, or an oppressive or discriminatory state, prisons fill with people who, in other social contexts, would be exemplary and free citizens.

Salvador Puig Antich’s prison cell in Barcelona, La Modelo.

La Modelo is a building that materialises the idea of Jeremy Bentham’s “The Panopticon” (1787). Bentham conceived of the prison as an instrument of social control based on the uncertainty of surveillance, so that from an ideal geometric point, the so-called panopticon, we are continuously observed without seeing the observer.  Over time, the inmate comes to assume that he is constantly under surveillance, which forms the basis of his subordination, control and behaviour modification, as thoroughly examined by Foucault in Discipline and Punish (1975), and more recently adapted to the era of mobile phone by Tim Maly and Emily Horne (2014).

Bentham’s model extended to factories and schools, and now the panopticon, as you might have guessed, the panopticon is in your pocket. Miniaturised and benign in appearance. The watchman is no longer a human prison officer stationed in a tower, rotating shifts, or a camera that might be an empty box, merely a deterrent: it is an algorithm that never rests, that operates continuously. It captures your data. Your life.

But what about education, talent and values in the digital age, in the age of the pocket panopticon? The philosopher José Antonio Marina tells us that talent “is the good use of intelligence, it is knowing what to do with our skills and our limitations” (Marina, 2022). Do we teach and educate for talent?

Schools should account for the process of idea generation in young people, and sufficiently train them with sound knowledge to enable them to foster, implement and formulate these ideas. Subsequently, they should be able to evaluate their results, beyond mere academic grades.  To evaluate is also to assess, to value. Values reflect the sense of right and wrong, not only in ethical or moral aspects, but also in the evaluation of the work we do: these are the academic values, the seed of future professional values, crucial especially in vocational training.

The evolution and maturity in learning stem from the criteria we teach our students so that they can value the work they have done. This includes self-demand and their perception of self-efficacy. Honesty is related to recognising, both to oneself and to the teacher, what one knows and what one does not know. Is honesty or fear encouraged to recognise ignorance? To hide or deny reality? Should the observant teacher anticipate or delegate and trust in technology, in the emerging learning analytics capable of predicting, from the pocket panopticon, whether the student will learn or not?

Knowledge, idea generation, implementation and assessment are key to the development of talent and values in education. And in the 21st century, these phases, in all areas of knowledge, are intertwined by technology.

Imprisoned in the panopticon, our attention captured by distraction, we gaze at the watchman’s tower, at the empty box of the camera, while the object of study and life slip out of focus.


* The original text, slightly updated to reflect the commemoration of the assassination of Puig Antich, was part of the public presentation that took place in the former prison La Modelo in Barcelona, at the Biennal de Pensament in 2022.


• Ávila, R.; Hernández-Fernández, A. (2022). Cómo educar en talento y valores en la era digital. Barcelona: Biennal de Pensament, 2022. https://www.biennaldepensament.barcelona/es/actividades/como-educar-en-talento-y-valores-en-la-era-digital

• Bentham, J. (1787). El panòptic. Barcelona: Edicions 62. Traducció al català i edició de 1985.

• Foucault, M. (1975). Vigilar y castigar. Madrid: Siglo XXI Editores. Edición y traducción de 1986.

• Maly, T., & Horne, E. (2014). The Inspection House: An Impertinent Field Guide to Modern Surveillance. Toronto: Coach House Books.

• Marina, J.A. (2022). La educación del talento. Barcelona: Ariel.

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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