A while back, I read about something called a panopticon. It's a kind of building that could be used as a prison or other institution.
Imagine rooms - cells - arranged to create the outside wall of a circular building, with one-way mirrors making up the inner walls. An observer could sit at the centre of the building and see any occupant at a glance, but none of the inmates would be able to see if they were being watched at any time - they'd just know it was possible.
It struck me (as it has many people in recent years) that this is a good analogy for our society. With CCTV, the CIA and MI6 watching us electronically, with Facebook and associated organisations data mining - we're all being observed at some point in some way. We don't necessarily know when, or how much; we just know we might be, and at some point certainly are.
It's also become clear that the internet's own algorithms filter what we find in searches. Rather than being a window onto the entire world, it's more like a mirror reflecting ourselves back to us. Ironic and sinister, don't you think? We live in a panopticon, but we are not the observers, we're the observed.
I thought about how helpless we all are in the face of this. And a similar sense of helplessness often creeps over me when I think about the enormous problems we face as the human race, and that the Earth faces because of us. I retreat into my personal world, attending to those things I do have control over, and shutting out the bigger picture. I think most of us do.
Fiddling while Rome burns.