Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Someone is always watching

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If you're in a public space, you're probably being watched. 
Photo / Thinkstock
If you're in a public space, you're probably being watched. Photo / Thinkstock

Several recent news stories have revolved around video footage and surveillance. In Auckland's CCTV plan to watch you it was revealed that a "city-wide surveillance network of CCTV cameras is being stitched together in Auckland as the fore-runner of a national system which could include facial recognition technology". Civil libertarians naturally "expressed concern" while "advocates for the system say it will help make the city safer".

Then Police sex scandal worsens reported that the Weekend Herald "revealed a male officer and female civilian were stood down ... after allegedly filming themselves in a sex act in work time and sending it to their colleague".

Filming sex acts must be the latest thing. Earlier, Warrior's sex tape: 'We all make mistakes' - coach of a "sex tape" involving a league player and a Shortland Street star which was "made public briefly on social media". Columnist Kerre McIvor asked "what on earth is anyone thinking filming themselves during sex? What do you do with the tapes - sit around together afterwards and review the action over a cup of tea?"

Of course, in the case of these two examples, we know exactly what was done with the tapes. They were sent on to third parties. Clearly, just making the sex tape isn't sufficient. A significant part of the appeal must lie in the prospect of other people viewing it. Hence, distribution is essential.

Video footage was to the fore again in Top school rugby players caught stealing in Japan mall. Evidently, security cameras captured students from Hamilton Boys' High stealing clothing. And you'd have to have been living under a rock during John Banks' trial to not have seen the televised footage of him meeting Kim Dotcom - cold, hard evidence of their association.

It was the footage of Diana, Princess of Wales, at the Ritz, Paris, just before her in death in 1997 that made me realise our actions may very well be captured in public places. I often look for a video camera in a lift and give a cheery wave if I spy one. Grainy footage of an offender robbing a store or bank is sometimes televised in an attempt to catch the culprit. Similarly indistinct video from a service station can sometimes constitute the last known sighting of a missing person. I regularly see myself set against the backdrop of the produce section as I enter the local New World supermarket. Being watched and being videoed is an inevitable part of modern life.

As with Auckland's CCTV plan mentioned above, the reasons given for this surveillance is that it's for the greater good and to make us all safer. This same philosophy pervades Dave Eggers' prescient 2013 novel The Circle which I've just finished reading and which reflects our real life penchant for recording events.

Early in the book we are introduced to tiny wireless, high-resolution video cameras with a two-year battery-life and sell price of $59. First these unobtrusive devices were used on beaches so people could check the surf remotely. Then they were placed at Cairo's Tahrir Square to record clashes between protestors and authorities. They were billed as providing "instant accountability". One character explained that "because they're so small, they'll never know for sure where they are, who's placed them where and when. And the not-knowing will prevent abuses of power."

Elsewhere in the novel, an intimate moment is filmed by the male participant on his phone without the woman's knowledge or consent. Then individual politicians started to go "transparent" by wearing a small video camera around the neck which is broadcast live and accessible to whomever is interested. With no prospect of secret meetings or backroom deals, this is seen as the ultimate in accountability.

Encouraged by systemic and societal pressure, increasing numbers of people voluntarily go transparent, enabling anyone to follow their every move. Most people accept the wisdom of transparency but there are a few dissenting voices. One character wrote in a letter: "You and your ilk will live, willingly, joyfully, under constant surveillance, watching each other always, commenting on each other, voting and liking and disliking each other, smiling and frowning, and otherwise doing nothing much else."

Given recent events, this dystopian view of a highly-watched world doesn't seem as far-fetched as it used to. In her review of The Circle (which also incorporated social media themes) for The New York Review of Books, author Margaret Atwood wrote: "What happens to us if we must be 'on' all the time? Then we're in the twenty-four-hour glare of the supervised prison. To live entirely in public is a form of solitary confinement."

Clearly, we have to assume that if we're in a public space, it's highly likely we will be under some sort of scrutiny. And, in private moments it might be wise to ensure that filming devices are switched off. If all else fails, at least comb your hair and apply some lipstick. If you're going to appear in some grainy footage on a public forum, you may as well be looking your best.

Are you comfortable with the introduction of a city-wide surveillance network? Is being under constant scrutiny acceptable? What advice do you have for people who film themselves in intimate moments?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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