Last week was the news story concerning talking cameras in Britain:
The revolutionary ‘nanny camera’ scheme was first piloted in Wiltshire in 2003 and just seven weeks ago the loudspeakers were introduced by Middlesbrough Council, whose spokesman Mike Clark said they had already made a difference.
He said: “People have been shocked when a voice from a camera tells them to pick up sweet papers and cigarette butts. They tend to follow the request.
“Another example involved a number of people gathering outside the doorway of a pub. They were asked to disperse and they did.”
Cllr Peach added: “The talking cameras would be another weapon in our armoury. They could be used to crack down on any anti-social offence in the street.”peterboroughtoday.co.uk
This week is the story concerning the future of cameras in Chicago, one of the US’ largest cities:
“By the time 2016 [rolls around], we’ll have more cameras than Washington, D.C. … Our technology is more advanced than any other city in the world — even compared to London — dealing with our cameras and the sophistication of cameras and retro-fitting all the cameras downtown in new buildings, doing the CTA cameras,” Daley said. “By 2016, I’ll make you a bet. We’ll have [cameras on] almost every block.”nbc5.com
Both stories make casual allusions to “Big Brother” the almost mystical leader of Engsoc in George Orwell’s novel 1984. How they can acknowledge the kinship of the emerging surveillance state with Engsoc without screaming of the travesty of it all is beyond me. Yet they drop the phrase Big Brother, as if the words are devoid of any meaning.
WAR IS PEACE1984
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Or maybe they are without meaning anymore. With the advent of reality TV shows (one of them named Big Brother, unless I’m mistaken) in which the most private moments of a person’s life can be transmitted for the titillation of the viewing audience, perhaps we have become numb to the concept of prying eyes checking up on our every move. Personally, I can’t think of a more dangerous tool to place in the hands of gov’t.
True, crime is down when cameras are placed on the street. It’s also a fact that crime goes down when martial law is declared. Crime sort of becomes a moot point when everyone is a prisoner in their own society, when someone is always watching to report the slightest transgression.
‘You are the dead,’ said an iron voice behind them.
They sprang apart. Winston’s entrails seemed to have turned into ice. He could see the white all round the irises of Julia’s eyes. Her face had turned a milky yellow. The smear of rouge that was still on each cheekbone stood out sharply, almost as though unconnected with the skin beneath.
‘You are the dead,’ repeated the iron voice.
‘It was behind the picture,’ breathed Julia.
‘It was behind the picture,’ said the voice. ‘Remain exactly where you are. Make no movement until you are ordered.’
It was starting, it was starting at last! They could do nothing except stand gazing into one another’s eyes. To run for life, to get out of the house before it was too late — no such thought occurred to them. Unthinkable to disobey the iron voice from the wall. There was a snap as though a catch had been turned back, and a crash of breaking glass. The picture had fallen to the floor uncovering the telescreen behind it.
‘Now they can see us,’ said Julia.1984
Yes, now we can see you.
I keep running across references to Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business of late. I apparently missed this book back when it was released, but it was widely read (or at least everyone pretends they have read it now) and predicted the numbing of the public mind that endless entertainment sets up.
This development (and one of the thesis in that book) makes Aldous Huxley and Brave New World more prescient in the minds of many pundits; more prescient than George Orwell in 1984.
I don’t know. The two books were completely different animals and were focused on two different facets of the human condition. I think what is truer is that none of us knows what the future holds but all of us are convinced by our own experiences that we have better insight than those around us.
The surveillance state as it is developing in the US is almost benign in comparison to the way that it developed in Europe and Britain. At least it appears that way on the surface. I’m sure the victims of drones in our endless terror war in the Middle East would disagree on the subject of the deadliness of the US surveillance state.