Saturday, September 19, 2009

Smile! You're on camera!

A friend of mine is currently doing her under-grad in Philosophy at Simon Fraser University. In conjunction with her studies she is also a Teacher's Assistant and this week she found herself teaching a class that gave her cause for concern... The subject of debate was whether or not security cameras should be installed in classrooms and recreation areas at schools and universities.

The cause for my friend’s concern? …The debate was a non-starter because out of two classes of 30+ students each, not a single one of them had a problem with their every movement being filmed and recorded.

Say what?!

When did we become so accepting to this invasion of privacy, of what represents a significant infringement on our basic human rights? Is it ignorance? Is it apathy? Or, in a post-9/11 world, is it that we have become fearful and paranoid of danger lurking around every corner? Do we now feel more secure knowing that someone, somewhere is always looking out for us?

This latter point, in my opinion, is nonsense. Yes, the presence of a camera may deter some but 24/7 video surveillance for the most part, does not prevent crime, it merely increases the odds of the perpetrator perhaps being caught in the act once they have committed it. At best, it provides us with the illusion of safety and security.

No, there’s a deeper issue here. It’s not like these students are passionately in favor of being watched all day. They are merely accepting and indifferent to this reality and have rationalized it as something not to get into a fuss over. It’s a part of our world now like iPhones, GPS units and Facebook.

And you know what? I think mass media has a lot to do with this acceptance. Now you might think I’m going to point the finger squarely at the sensationalized manner in which news programming is now delivered. Afterall, one only has to watch the news for 15 minutes to lose sleep at night worrying about whether or not your alarm clock is giving you brain cancer or whether the fact that you’re worrying about said alarm clock is going to give you an ulcer… And what about that neighbor across the street? He’s so god damn normal there must be something up with him, right? I’ll bet he’s downloading child porn for breakfast, stealing your identity for lunch and plotting to over-throw the world and establish a New World Order for dinner!

Then again, perhaps our increased comfort factor with video cameras on every corner has nothing to do with fear, at least not the kind stemming from what lurks in the shadows waiting to cause us harm… Maybe, just maybe, it comes from being bombarded with “reality”… Movies like “Cloverfield” and “District 9” bend over backwards to create the look and feel of a “hyper reality”. Good old-fashioned fictionalized drama on TV has been replaced by the everyday. Whether you’re a has-been celebrity, an expert at building choppers, hunting down felons, fishing for crab in the Bering Sea or struggling to raise 8 kids, everyone and their dog can now be the star of their own show.

The number of people carrying a camera and the ability to capture life as it unfolds is growing exponentially. Let’s face it, you’re just not one of the cool kids unless you have a phone or an iPod capable of recording 16-bit high-definition video. The news outlets now encourage their audience to be freelance reporters on anything they are lucky enough to witness. We can film our friends getting drunk at a party and embarrassing themselves and in 5 minutes we can share it with the whole world by broadcasting it on youtube and linking to it via blogs, facebook and myspace.

Big Brother may be watching but his face is now that of you and I. Perhaps our acceptance of security cameras watching our every move stems not from our desire to be safe but our unconscious desire to be a somebody in a world of nobody’s…