Jeremy Bentham Auto Icon – UCL – London – 24th November 2011

During filming for Andrew Keen and Ewan Morrison’s latest work, Digital Vertigo we visited Jeremy Bentham’s Auto Icon in the South Wing of UCL. Bentham was an English philosopher who is most famous for inventing the Inspection House, also known as the Panopticon. This was a prison where all cells were individual but interconnected and could be watched over by a single man. Orwell was very critical of this idea of a ‘God’ figure and 1984 was based on his critical opinion of the Panopticon.

When Bentham died he requested that his organs be used for medical science but his body then stuffed and displayed permanently in UCL. Digital Vertigo draws a comparison between Bentham’s Auto Icon and the way social networking sites are affecting our interaction with each other. This idea that Bentham is constantly surrounded by people but completely alone could be compared to social networking sites where we are increasingly interconnected but technically alone as we are not really interacting with each other face to face. Moreover the idea of presenting ourselves as we wish fits into the concept of Bentham. The fact that he is permanently on display as he wishes to be perceived is similar to sites such as Facebook where we can control how we are viewed by others.

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