I basically assume that I am under constant surveillance.

I don’t mean that any agency or entity has any particular interest in watching me – my narcissism doesn’t quite reach that degree. Almost. Not quite. I mean that I assume by default that someone could possibly be viewing me or listening to me or recording me at any given time.

If I’m walking down the street, there could be security cameras or satellite photos including me in their records. There could be a Google Streetview van cruising past. When I get money out of an ATM, there’s a little camera at the top – it could be recording. It’s entirely possible that cellphone microphones could include functionality for remote activation. So could webcams. I am aware of the possibility of hidden cameras behind mirrors in elevators, always suffixing any private vanities with a ridiculous flourish of my most silly of silly faces – just in case.

Plausible deniability, you see? Concerned about a grey hair springing from my eyebrow? Ahahaha, no, not me. I finished off with an impression of an orangutan – remember? I knew you were watching all along.

With the online demand for all kinds of weird shit, I’m conscious of at least the possibility that any given public toilet comes fully equipped with a hidden camera catering to the growing needs of a copraphiliac black market. A fire-extinguishing sprinkler would be such a perfect disguise for a hidden camera that a sprinkler-shaped camera is almost certainly available for purchase online these days.

I take it for granted that every website I visit, every image I view, every email I send or receive, could be recorded somewhere. When I receive SMS messages to my phone from certain people using certain keywords (buzzwords?) inviting me to certain meetings or protests, I see some colour of alert register on some server somewhere in my imagination. When I get a text from my sister about her wedding a few minutes later and I reply, I wonder idly if she is now possibly implicated in my own possible threat-potential credit rating.

These things, they’re always possibilities. In any given space, physical or virtual, there could be someone watching or listening. That is simply a fact, an aspect of the means provided by modern technology. Various things – profit, security, perversion, policing, even curiosity – provide motive for the means that are now commonplace. There is every possibility that I am being watched as I type this and you are being watched as you read it. Or not! Who knows?

But the thing is, I don’t care.

Of course, I do care. When I think about it hard and think about how things could be otherwise, sure. But for the most part, I find it hard to bring myself to care. I’ve internalised the panopticon. Maybe we’re always being watched. What can you do? It’s like pesticides. They’re not good for you, but there’s no escaping them. Apparently I’m not alone in my lack of shit-giving.

Maybe this is what believing in an omniscient personal God feels like. I vaguely recall that aspect of it – muttering to God about how he must find it real hilarious that I stubbed my toe. You must get acclimatised to that feeling of being watched. For a while you’re on your best behaviour, but eventually you’re taking your pants off in a TVNZ elevator just to see if there are any repercussions.

For the record, there are not.

2 Comments Panopticon

  1. The Morgan

    Like police and guns, I don't mind if camera footage can be grabbed when neeeded, I just don't want them around all the time.

    There's a difference between going to the footage to find evidence to reinforce a complaint, and constantly monitoring for any little thing. Like unnecessary medical imaging, you'll always find something out of the ordinary, something that otherwise wouldn't have caused anyone any real bother.

    Does anyone really care if some girl pisses behind a car? Not really, but if an officious little wanker in a nondescript building somewhere in the CBD immediately dispatches the goon squad, that fairly inoffensive act suddenly turns into a big deal.

    Judgement & discretion on the part of those we've tasked with maintaining our community standards are the difference between 'meh' and 'smash the state'.


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