I was just out taking some photos for a blog post I’ve been toying with when I had an interaction with a member of the public that prompted me to write an entirely different story. My original intention was to describe how dead land under elevated highways can be reclaimed as quality public space instead of merely providing a haven for crime and devaluing nearby property. Skateboard parks, basketball courts, and dog parks can work well in these locations.
But as I was taking the photographs a man at the dog park asked what the pictures were for. I gave him my usual spiel about urbanism and economic development. I told him I lived down the street. I offered him one of my cards so he knew who I was and how he might contact me if he had any questions. He wasn’t interested in talking and he very clearly didn’t want to be in the photos. So I invited him to look at the camera with me so we could delete the photos he found objectionable. He didn’t want any kind of interaction. He just restated his distaste for my photographing people without their permission. “Shouldn’t you be asking people to sign a waiver or something?”
At that point I apologized and moved along. I returned after the guy left and took new photos of the park without him. At moments like this I tend to look up and scan the immediate environment and without fail I find two, three, four, or five cameras embedded in the landscape. Traffic cameras, security cameras on gas stations and convenience stores, entry cameras on homes and apartment buildings, cameras inside train cars and on transit platforms, other people taking random photos with their phones… This guy was already being filmed by a dozen machines from multiple angles as he walked from his home to the dog park. These forms of surveillance are so ubiquitous and anonymous that we tend not to think about them. I of course, think about this pretty often particularly since I know that many of these cameras are connected to the Internet and are being saved, collated, and sifted through by all kinds of algorithms for all sorts or reasons. And then there are the cell phone, e-mail, and web searches that we all make daily that are similarly picked over by an ever increasing number of invisible entities for who-knows-what.
It’s easy to become alarmed by a stranger with a camera in a park. Such people are immediately accessible and can be rebuked for their insensitivity to privacy issues. So go ahead and vent if you want. But privacy is gone and it isn’t coming back. Instead we’re now in the new Global Village where we actually need to behave ourselves for real. Everyone is watching everyone else just like in the tiny country villages of the past. People used to earn a reputation for being fair and honest. Or they earned a reputation for being something else… There were no secrets back in the shtetl. And there won’t be any secrets moving forward in the electronic future. While this guy was pissed off about me taking his photo I was thinking… hmmmm. It’s broad daylight in a public park and this guy clearly has something to hide.