From the Greek roots holos (whole) and optikè (see), holopticism means the capacity for an individual to see the whole as a living entity in the collective in which he/she operates. Sports teams and jazz bands operate in a holoptical context because each player perceives the team as a whole and knows what to do.
We should not confuse holopticism with transparency. Transparency means the capacity to see the actions of everyone. Holopticism applies only when a whole emerges as an autonomous, perceivable entity (the band, the team…). For instance the crowd in a bus doesn’t operate as collective unified whole (unless something special happens). 100 players on a sports field won’t make a coherent sports team either, although everyone can see everyone. In both examples, we have transparency, not holopticism.
In a holoptical context, the individual knows what to do because he/she gets informed by the whole. Actions don’t need to come from a blind chain of command. Individual and collective actions emerge at crossroads of rules and agreements, player’s roles, individual personalities and styles, the current configuration on the field. Every individual action modifies the whole which in return informs the player about what to do next, and so on. An unceasing feedback loop allows for the individual and the collective to communicate with one another.
We name panopticism the opposite of holopticism. It consists in an architecture organized so that all information converges towards a central point, making it partially – and even totally – inaccessible to the others. Video surveillance systems, banks, intelligence services, and jails offer examples of panoptical-based environments. This type of organization occurs sometimes in physical space, and sometimes as a result information distribution. In most companies information systems operate as a hybrid mix of panoptical and holoptical. While these may offer a certain level of transparency, the lower we go on the hierarchy, the fewer people have access rights. Social hierarchies and panopticism work hand in hand.
Holopticism in collective intelligence
Holopticism exists as a natural property of original collective intelligence, i.e. small groups that have the capacity to perceive each other and cohere around their actions: clans of evolved mammals (big cats, wolves, elephants, dolphins, whales…), some birds (ducks, geese…), sports teams, jazz bands, army squad, small villages…
Until recently holopticism could only appear in groups operating through original collective intelligence. Pyramidal collective intelligence needs panopticism to work. Swarm collective intelligence probably uses a mix of basic holopticism combined with other behavioral laws based on the perception of the immediate environment (this currently remains an open question).
Holomidal collective intelligence requires holopticism to exist. Holopticism will become one of the most important issues in future societies who want to harmonize individual and collective freedom. It will become a central question in socialware, communityware and game design (MMOGs). In the game industry, a game like Ingress offers interesting –yet basic– holoptical tools.