Surveiled

I took my regular walk in my neighborhood this morning. It was Sunday, already hot at 10:00 am, and super quiet. No one was around except for the odd car driving by.

Suddenly, I heard a cheery, female voice. “Hi!” it said. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone.

“You are being recorded,” said the disembodied voice.

Ugh. Really? I thought. I couldn’t see a camera anywhere, and it wasn’t clear whether the voice came from my right or left. It sort of came from… above?

I continued on my walk, knowing that to someone, I looked as horrible as I do on those self-checkout cameras at Target. I was glad I wouldn’t see the footage, but I was also a little ticked. I wasn’t on anyone’s property, I was in the street, a good six feet from the curb to avoid parked cars — there are no sidewalks in this part of our apparently heavily-monitored neighborhood.

I get it. It’s 2022 and we are on camera almost everywhere we go — malls, grocery stores, gas stations, and drive thru windows. I accept that, because I understand the business owners are trying to protect their property and employees from robbers or vandals. Even though I try hard not to look at myself in the self-checkout monitor screens, I understand why they’re there.

I even understand Ring doorbells. If I’m on someone’s property, I have to accept the owner’s wish to record me. I don’t like it, but I get it. I can’t tell you how many Amazon packages I’ve thought about stealing until I saw the camera. I could be making bank, but those Ring videos thwart me every time. So yeah, I do understand the need to guard your home.

What I experienced this morning is different. It’s a little bit scary, slightly dystopian, and irritating. Where does it end? How much can we surveil our streets until we feel safe? Our boring, middle class, suburban Los Angeles neighborhood is already pretty safe by any standard. Aside from the occasional Fast and Furious wannabe teens doing donuts late at night, it’s rare to see a police car on our streets.

The next logical step in this constant-surveillance future we’re ushering in is recording and monitoring activities going on inside our homes. After all, couldn’t law enforcement protect us better if they could stop crime before it happens? You never know what’s going on in that house across the street. Isn’t it our right to know if there’s evil lurking behind those closed doors? What if it — gasp — gets out?

After all, we already have our homes stuffed with Nest thermometers, Alexa devices, and pet monitors. The structure is in place. We only need a few loud, self-righteous politicians to stir things up, creating new laws to “protect” us from ourselves. And, with every set of ten cameras you install, you get a free set of pearls to clutch.

In ten years, no one will think I was exaggerating.

The eroding of rights in America

While I did have a reaction to the news last week about the overturn of Roe v Wade here in the U.S., I didn’t want to jump into the fray on social media. Yet. There’s already a feed full of reactions and re-reactions, and it’s kind of a mess. But I do have strong feelings about it.

It’s quite clear that this overturn is the beginning of a larger campaign to remove rights from women, black people, and LGBTQ folks. While Justice Alito and his cohorts can stand behind the shield of the law and pretend that this is all about returning power to the states, it seems obvious that there is political and religious motivation at work.

I think there are three kinds of people in this country who are affecting (or not affecting) the reversals of rights that we are seeing:

  1. Those who are actively working to take away rights from women, black people, and LGBTQ folks.
  2. Those who are okay with human rights being removed or just don’t care, because they are not affected.
  3. Those who have no opinion and want to remain neutral because they “need more evidence” or they’re waiting for their favorite celebrity or politician to tell them what they should think.

In Group 1, there is at least overt action or words that can be argued or voted against. It’s still not okay, but it’s easier to fight because we can see it. Even if their only motive is to win an election, and voicing conservative views is merely a marketing strategy, it’s out in the open.

Group 2 is more difficult to handle because it’s not always obvious. People tend to hang out only with those who they know will agree with them. These people won’t make a ruckus at Thanksgiving dinner, but they will whisper behind backs or worse, shrug their shoulders at the actions of Group 1.

With Group 3, you may be able to get them to see your points and even get them to see the injustice caused by Group 1. However, if a comedian or politician with a strong voice comes along with opposing views, they will change their minds just as easily. These are the people whose strongest opinion on any controversial subject is that “there are two sides to everything and they should all be considered.”

For the rest of us who do care, the question is how do we make change — or make sure that change doesn’t happen?

I don’t have an answer for this at the moment. I’m working on it.