But forget for a moment prisons, schools, militaries, and all those areas of life where the conscious asymmetry of observing and being observed influences behavior. Think toddler playgrounds. Think sprawling suburban playgrounds overrun with children on a school holiday, three of your own dashing impulsively and variously from one shiny construction to the next, and then to the next, disappearing briefly to re-emerge somewhere quite different. And then, one of them, not re-emerging at all. The self-calming self-talk, this has all happened before, the systematic scanning, the mounting cycles of rationalization and hastier scanning, the all out panic. You start asking random parents whether they've seen a child of such and such a description and they take on your alarm like contagion. And all the while, there she sat in an odd little recess contentedly digging holes in the shredded tires. Kids that age, once absorbed in play, don't even notice the call of nature, let alone the habits of the parent on duty.
What a playground like that needs is a simple fence around the perimeter and mounted picnic area in the middle for parents to chat and idle. What we need, and I've thought this practically every time I've taken the kids out to play, is the Toddler Panopticon. (Even a real panopticon would do, especially on a rainy day. What toddler would not thrill to run down circular corridors and up and down steps, and swing from all manner of bars and banisters?)
Now as it turns out, not only does the Toddler Panopticon exist, but it far surpasses my modest notion. A certain Cub Run Recreation Center in Chantilly, VA, boasts an entire indoor toddler pool, with a jungle gym half submerged in very shallow water, artificial currents and slides of many heights, and at least two young lifeguards watchfully pacing the edges at all times. And in the middle, rising above it all and commanding a view of every corner, oh gentle reader!, is the jacuzzi.
And last a play area restorative to parent and child alike. Thank you, Jeremy Bentham!