Robert Pruessner | Guest Reporter
Photo by Adam Fitts

Would you rather have your every move watched, or have to worry about your own safety every time you walked outside? That seems to be the question these days, of surveillance and safety.

I’ve recently just come back from a trip to London, and the cameras are about as common as tea over there. If you look closely, pretty much anywhere, you can clearly see someone is looking closely back at you through a camera. In fact, cameras are so great in number that there’s one camera for every 32 people in the UK. With a population of nearly 66 million people, that’s over 2 million cameras! What sort of effect does this have on the people there?

Well, in my experience, I’ve never felt safer, at least out of any metropolis I’ve visited, and I’ve been to quite a few across the country. St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. have nothing on the London feel. It’s a totally different mood over there, much less tense than any big city I’ve ever seen. For one, people are just calmer over there. They seem more exhausted than anything, but that might just be because Americans are full of energy, or at least like to act like it. English people are much more reserved, deliberate. Shy, even.

I often wondered how the surveillance played into, or even influenced that attitude. Are British people so reserved because of the constant watch of the cameras, or are they just another tool to reinforce that kind of behavior? After all, if cameras are a tool for law enforcement, who’s to say they couldn’t be a tool for cultural enforcement as well?

An independent study done by Peabody House in central London found that the constant presence of CCTV cameras has been shown to increase the anxiety in residents of neighborhoods where surveillance systems are common place. This made me wonder, was the calm society I found myself at home in for a week really a state of freedom, or was it a state of fear?

I tried not to worry about it too much on my trip, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the natives of London in a way. I wonder how they see it, but to me it looks like the government has taken a page from the novel “1984,” where everyone is watched, their every action policed under a strict set of laws meant to keep people as efficient, healthy, productive members of society. On the surface, that sounds good, but in the world of “1984,” the only society that exists is the government, and its citizens are little more than slaves, who should know better than to speak out.

Now, that’s a lot scarier than what I actually experienced, but it was still startling to me, seeing even the slightest kind of flirtation with that kind of system. The exhausted, anxious faces of the Londoners made me wonder what they were thinking, what they were holding back behind that stiff upper lip and what they showed when cameras aren’t watching. Overall, I realized that I saw a society where everyone wears masks, not masks of who they want to be like we might do here, but rather opaque masks, ones you can’t see beyond, whether you’re a human or a camera.

 

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