We got the cutest little cameras hangin’ everywhere, oh yeah…
After awhile you just forget they’re there, oh yeah…
What a perfect place
-Planet P Project (Tony Carey), “This Perfect Place”
Or if you want the entire song, with the lyrics in large subtitles across the screen:
I grew up on that. The album came out in 1984, and the song is clearly highly influenced by the novel 1984. It’s actually part of a very long concept album, and in fact was my introduction to prog rock, concept albums, and Okie singers with recognizable Okie accents who weren’t singing country. (Although when he was asked if he’d ever do a country album, he said “They’re all country songs really” or something like that.) So I heard this song a lot. I won’t get into the plot of the thing, it’s long and complicated and not the point here.
When I was growing up, the idea of cameras everywhere was something out of a dystopia. If someone said it could happen people would probably think they were a conspiracy theorist or paranoid in some way. It was certainly something to be afraid of if you thought about it. Not something normal. Not something people would accept. Something that would creep people out to think about.
These days in a lot of countries there are cameras everywhere, used for far more than the security purposes they’re claimed to be used for, and people are just frigging desensitized or something.
I know people who are very concerned with the role of surveillance in modern societies, who dedicate a lot of their time and energy to it. I’ve never done that. I’ve never liked the situation, I’ve detested the situation, I’ve feared the situation, but I’ve never been able to devote much time or energy to understanding it or doing anything about it or thinking about it much of the time other than in passing or when it affects me or someone I know.
It doesn’t sit easy with me, but even I’m used to it by now. I hate it, but I’m used to it.
How the hell did we get from there to here? I remember a time when nobody would’ve been used to it. I can’t even remember how or when they were phased in. How quickly or how slowly. What changed. What made people accept this.
I used to live in an apartment complex full of cameras, supposedly for security purposes. In reality they were rarely used for security. They were used for everything from finding lost items in the halls, to making sure tenants didn’t use the bulletin boards without authorization. (I ran afoul of that one by posting landlord-tenant law on them. Nothing but a snippet of actual landlord-tenant law printed out. At 3 in the morning. They were gone in an hour.) Which is a free speech violation but they never did care about violations of our rights, it was low-income housing and they pretty publicly didn’t think highly of their tenants. And they were largely used as part of the War on Drugs — catching any drug deals that happened to take place in the halls and evicting people. None of which had anything to do with actual security or safety, the claimed purpose. I can’t ever remember an instance where they were used to protect anyone. There could be one, I just never heard of one. They certainly didn’t use them to catch the people yelling death threats at me and a roommate through our door, during the same time period they were using them to police their bulletin boards. Or the guy running around threatening to murder people with a crossbow. Long story.
Anyway, I just wonder how we got there from here, and why people are okay with it, and how and why it happened, and what happens when everyone who remembers what it was like before is dead.