Of all the things the Ancient Romans did, what fascinates me the most are the Roman Aqueducts. These bridge-like structures supported by multiple levels of Roman arches can be seen spanning across valleys in many countries across Europe and North Africa – territories that were part of the Roman Empire. The aqueducts carried fresh water into Rome’s homes, baths, and fountains. In fact, even today the famous Trevi fountain in Rome is fed by water from an aqueduct that was built in 19 BCE.
The Romans built the aqueducts from 312 BCE to 226 CE, under the rules of Augustus, Caligula, and Trajan. While the parts above ground are the most recognizable, a majority of the aqueducts were laid below ground – and are made up of underground tunnels, pipes, and canals. Of a total of 420 kms of aqueducts, only 50 kms are above ground.
The water flowed from dams, reservoirs, and other sources towards Rome because of gravity. The entire aqueduct system had to have just the right gradient – too much and the water would flow too fast particularly into Rome and burst the pipes, too low and the water would stop flowing. The Romans used rivers and riverbeds to learn about gradient technology to allow water to flow at the correct speed. The engineering knowledge the ancient Romans must have possessed to achieve this feat is remarkable.
Once the water arrived in Rome, it went into a large storage reservoir called the main castellum. From the castellum, the water traveled to different parts of Rome in smaller channels, and entered a secondary castellum, from where it further branched until it reached its final destination like the Trevi fountain.
The ancient Romans built 11 aqueducts in all. Some of the Roman aqueducts are Aqua Claudia, Aqua Appia (oldest), Aqua Anio Vetus, Aqua Marcia (could take water up to Palatine hill), Aqua Alexandina (last one built), and Aqua Traiana.
Last week, I read the essay Panopticism by French philosopher Michel Foucault, in which he talks about surveillance as a form of control which is done through the Panoptic machine. He included this essay in his 1975 book Discipline and Punish. Unlike the middle ages when punishment was violent and intended to cause severe bodily harm, Foucault’s modern theory of punishment was discipline through surveillance – make the disciplinary power invisible, and make the object of the power visible.
Foucault considers 18th Century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s design of the maximum surveillance prison, the Panopticon, to be the model of this disciplinary technology. Bentham’s fictional Panopticon had a simple but clever design; a circle of jail cells radiating outward from a central guard tower. Each cell faced the guard tower, and walls separated the cells from each other.
The design facilitates constant surveillance since the supervisor can see all the prisoners all of the time from the central tower, but the prisoners cannot see the supervisor or the other prisoners. Since the prisoners cannot see the guard they don’t know when they are actually being observed, but knowing that they can be observed at any time, made them discipline themselves and regulate their own behavior.
The Panopticon surveillance was especially effective because the possibility of constant observation was enough to regulate behavior – actual surveillance was not really ever needed. Foucault says – surveillance was permanent in its effects even if it is discontinuous in its actions. The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen (Foucault).
Foucault suggested that this surveillance model was not just restricted to prisons – it could be could be applied to hospitals, workshops, schools – in fact society as a whole – it is a tool to create obedient citizens who could be programmed to self-discipline. Which leads me to thinking – in the current digital age, are we living in a virtual Panopticon? With CCTVs, social media, and big data, the move towards constant surveillance is happening far more quickly and efficiently than Foucault could have imagined.
In 8th grade we were asked to write about our relationship with technology (or something like that – i cant remember the exact prompt). I don’t think this is what my English teacher was expecting:
I should unplug and connect with my family because I think it would be nice to give my poor overworked phone a break. All week long the phone is a workhorse – it works at 2000% capacity. At any given time, it is playing music for me, letting me search various extremely important things on at least ten different browsers, letting me send and receive texts at the speed of lightning, downloading email form my personal and my school account, keeping me up to date on all activity on Snapchat, refreshing my Instagram feed, keeping me apprised on everyone’s every move on Facebook, letting me switch between a movie on Netflix and a movie on Amazon Prime, and telling me exactly where I am every second of every day on both Google and Safari maps.
I may not know for extended periods of time where my family is – but I know every second that I am awake – and probably asleep too – exactly where my phone is.
My phone needs a break from me so it can relax, rejuvenate, and recharge its batteries by connecting in peace with its charger – without the constant interruptions from me even when it is trying to charge itself.
And perhaps while it is doing that, I too will get a chance to recharge my batteries, and to connect with what’s really important in my life. I too will get the chance to nourish my soul by spending a few peaceful and meaningful uninterrupted minutes with my family.