When I was growing up in Queens, people were afraid of walking the streets at night, fearful of “muggings.” It became a cliche to hear about an elderly neighbor pushed onto the ground to have her purse stolen, or some old man held up by gun point. If you see old movies from the 1970s-1980s, you will see these events as a frequent story plot.
Crime continues today, especially violent crime, but how often do you hear about muggings in the street? Very rarely. Do we have a new respect for the weak and elderly? Has police enforcement become more efficient?
I think the most obvious answer has nothing to do with any of these things, but technology — the growth of the credit card since the 1990s.
The desperate know that the average citizen walks around the city with paltry amounts of cash in their pockets; instead, we have a multitude of credit cards. Credit card fraud is a whole lot more complex and time-consuming that stealing $100 from an old lady. In 2014, you are more likely to have your iPhone stolen in the subway than your wallet. And as technology better protects our phones, that will become less frequent as well.
Technology. We hate how invasive it has become, but we love it anyway, especially when it serves our needs.
We all have seen the outcries on social media about Facebook Messenger and how it spies on our data. But welcome to 2014. Technology continues to change how we live our lives.
Much has been said about the growth of citizen journalism. During the marches and police activity in Ferguson last night, it was ordinary citizens who presented the images and videos to the world via their cellphones, not the mainstream media. For everyone who has ever complained about the ubiquity of selfies online or me taking street photos of women crossing Fifth Avenue, we now see the positive power of amateur photography. We have become the media.
Yes, we have become the directors of our movies, but it also means knowing we are the subjects of the films of others. Look at London. There are video cameras on every corner. Does it reduce crime? Yes. But at what cost? We appear as character actors on camera seen picking our noses as we walk the street.
Because of our distrust of our own police forces, there are some cities that now require police officers to wear video cameras while on duty. This will force them to not abuse their power. I think we can all see the future. In fact, we already have it — in Google Glass.
Once we all become walking and talking video cameras, forcing transparency on what used to be done in dark corners, the world will completely change. Crime will drop, as will police abuse. Sexual harassment will disappear because we will always be on camera in our offices. Productivity will rise because we will have no choice. Cameras will be required to be ON during interviews and important board meetings. No one will trust parent-teacher conferences that are not recorded, used as protection against lawsuits.
There will be so much good coming from this world where “We Are the Camera.” People will act better because Big Brother will be watching. But our urge to control the world will also control us. Google Glass type devices can be our own personal video security system, making us feel safe as we walk home from the subway at night, but it will also destroy our careers when we are recorded telling that dirty joke while drunk.
“1984” is here, for good and bad, creating a more equitable, safe, but invasive and angry world where we watch each other, controlling each other’s every step. The amateur videos from St. Louis. The “selfies” from BlogHer. Google Glass. Policemen required to wear video cameras. And, of course, running it all from behind the scenes – Facebook Messenger.