When Mormon women are asked how they can protect their families from pornography, a common reply is that the computer should be placed in the center of the room. The strategy is essentially that of Foucault’s panopticon. The assumption seems to be that the best way to protect families from pornography is to live in a bubble. But while placing a computer in the center of a room might have prevented children from going to certain websites ten years ago, we now live in the age of handheld devices.
Now that information no longer comes through a centralized computer, any attempt to monitor what people watch is ultimately a losing battle. All the more reason, I think, to give up this approach to dealing with pornography. Rather than monitoring every bit of information that children or adults consume and believing that anything bad they see will set them on the path towards darkness, the only way I see to actually “protect” our families is to have frank, open discussions about what they see in which images, lifestyles, and trends are contextualized. At other times, we need to recognize that addiction might be merely a symptom of other far more fundamental problems, such as the long-term unemployment that makes people despair.
If we are unhappy with society’s discourse about sex, then we need to replace it with another discourse. But pretending that sex doesn’t exist or will damage us if we are exposed to it is likely to make children watch the very porn we discourage since there is nothing else to educate them about sex. At any rate, in an age of dispersed and constant information, it is hard to see how a paradigm in which we simply separate ourselves from information can survive.