What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
– Romeo and Juliet, (II, ii, 1-2)

The name of this weblog is “Panopticon Central,” which is probably no stranger a name than some others, I suppose, but I still think bears some explanation. Like any good name, there are multiple levels of meaning, so to peel the onion from the inside out:

  • A “panopticon” was a kind of prison proposed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1791. (I don’t know if he actually coined the term or not.) The idea was to design the prison such that the guards would be able to observe the prisoners at all times without being seen. Thus, prisoners would never know whether they were being observed or not, and would be forced to moderate their own behavior. (At least, that was the theory. I don’t know that our modern technological panopticons work all that well in practice.) The name “panopticon” meant an “all seeing place.”

An odd choice, don’t you think, for a weblog name? A prison? Well, a step deeper:

  • For those of you who were not uber-geeks as teenagers, a little background about “Doctor Who.” It was a BBC sci-fi television show about a rogue Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey named “The Doctor.” Time Lords have the ability to travel through time and space in a machine known as a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). On Gallifrey, the central complex that houses the Time Lords’ government is called the Panopticon.

Well, OK. In an earlier entry, I copped to be a Doctor Who fanatic when I was in my early teens. But why choose a Doctor Who reference several decades later? Another step deeper:

  • On my 13th birthday, two significant things happened: I went to see “Return of the Jedi,” which had just come out, and I got a 300 baud modem from my parents. At the time, of course, the Internet didn’t exist and dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSes) were the only game in town. Soon I was totally hooked and within a year decided that I wanted to run one. My parents procured me some BBS software a year later when they visited the Democratic presidential convention in San Francisco. A year after that, I managed to get them to give me a 10 megabyte hard drive for my Apple ][+ for Christmas (it had it’s own power source and everything!). Six months or so after that, my BBS went online. And because I was just coming out of my Doctor Who phase, it was called Panopticon Central.

My BBS lasted for two years until I went away from college and it was an absolutely wonderful experience. Besides being a lot of fun, it was a great way to meet a wide variety of people, some of whom remain good friends to this day. About six months ago, I was setting up my server and thought “Hey, it’d be cool to host my own domain.” But, of course, I needed a name and all the simple names were taken during the Internet Gold Rush. I toyed around with a number of other names, but kept coming back to Panopticon Central because it had good juju (at least, for me). When I decided to set up the weblog, it seemed a natural.

Ironically, the name appears to be particularly apt because weblogging has much of the same feel to it that BBSes did fifteen years ago. Same sense of community, same sense of individual investment, same pointless flame wars over obscure subjects… A bit like coming home after a long time away.

[An interesting sidenote about Doctor Who: in the show the Time Lords also maintain a large computer called The Matrix that contains all of the knowledge of Time Lords who have died. It also functions as a virtual reality machine which you can plug into, just like that other Matrix. During at least one adventure, the Doctor and his arch nemisis the Master are each plugged into the Matrix and the Doctor must fight his way out. And this was in 1975. The Wachowski brothers must have been fans too…]

8 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Hurcane

    Interesting reading about the thought process behind the name of your blog. When I was in my mid-teens in the early 80s, some friends and I were going to start a computer help service and call it "Hurricane Computers". When I got involved in BBSs, my handle on most boards was "The Hurricane". My first ISP only supported 7 characters in logins, so my login became "hurcane". Now that I have recently started a boring blog, it is "Hurricane Blog".

    I think it is interesting how insignificant events from our childhood, especially our teen years, follow us througout our lifetime.

  2. Anand

    Wow, another Doctor WHO fan…:-) Well Doctor Who books were never published in India and I had to spend quite some time in the secondhand book shops to get my hands on them. But it was well worth it and I liked them a lot. But I never had a chance to see the TV series though.:-(

  3. Jesse Walker

    …and it’s good to see Panopticon Central — the Paul Vick online project, not the Doctor Who plot ppint — back in a new guise. In honor of the mode of posting I adopted while participating in your old BBS, the remainder of this comment will be WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, JUST LIKE MY MOM’S APPLE II FORCED ME TO DO.

  4. paulvick

    Aw, c’mon. It’s 2003. Can’t you spring for the 80 column card that gives you lowercase on your Apple ][+? At least you use punctuation, which was another popular style, if I remember correctly!

  5. Tommy Bowen

    And for awhile, Panopticon Central had the baddest (meaning only) RPG in the Piedmont, Proving Grounds. Paul was a lot better at RPGs than basketball back then.

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