Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm watching you

The old proverb reads, "those in glass houses should not throw stones". What to do when everyone lives in a glass house becomes less prosaic and more practical as more lives become transparent in the Age of Cameras.

I'm titling this post 'I'm watching you' because chances are someone is doing just that: At this very moment while you're reading this post. If you are in an internet cafe' there is probably a security camera posted nearby. Same thing if you are in an office, sitting on a park bench perusing your Blackberry or even driving. Cameras are everywhere, and some of them carry guns. Like some omnipotent being, revealing all, passing judgement and carrying out executions. Video games with real life consequences.

I have recently begun to engage in the 'social networking' phenomenon on the internet, having been assured that any chance at business success depended on 'having a presence'. So, I have a presence. Finding success as a writer in the Age of Cameras apparently depends on having a blog, which hopefully gathers a large following over time, eventually attracting the attention of someone scouring the web looking for the next breakout bestselling author. Think Julie & Julia. Therefore, I have a blog. Next, I suppose, I will need a website, where people can download a story for 99 cents, or subscribe to a podcast of me reading my book. Technology everywhere, and not a moment to think as we follow threads, keep readers informed of the most inane (and eminently unimportant) minutiae, and follow one another over the cliff.

The irony of this state of affairs seems lost to those adrift in a sea of 'too much to do, not enough time to do it'. There is much wailing and lamentation for our lost 'free time', yet no clear grasp that we have sacrificed that free time willingly to peer into the electronic window. We are like an army of peeping Toms hoping to catch a glimpse of something shocking. Be careful what you wish for; your most embarrassing moment, captured from different angles from multiple cell phones may have a date with You Tube destiny.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is observing how quickly it spreads. Viral is now probably thought of more as an electronic event rather than a biological one. Unquestionably humans are social animals. Our lives are more entangled with one another than any other species and social webs let us keep in touch with family and friends easily. Graffiti probably started as a means of communication among tribal groups (and mostly serves that function still), then letters became family events. For some they became touchstones of contact with those still remembered but far removed. Telegraph, telephone, pictures, home movies, radio, television, cell phones and now the internet have sprung from fertile minds to become common tools. The laptop replaces the plow as the principle source of income in a household. Try to imagine doing whatever you do for a living without using a computer, or the internet.

Thus has it happened that we all live in glass houses. We see what we are all doing by staring through the digital looking-glass at one another. 1984 was a novel predicting a future where Big Brother watched over everyone, monitored every move and corrected behavior according to an acceptable set of guidlines. George Orwell was on the right train but missed the correct track. Big Brother has turned out not to be a central governmental authority, but instead it has become us.

Don't look now, but I'm watching you.

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