The Influence of Observation

Thinking about our lack of privacy, with ubiquitous information, surveillance cameras and facial recognition software extending to businesses so they know when we walk in, what they have that will appeal to us, I wonder how this might extend into influencing human behavior.If we think that we are being watched all the time, might we be enticed to behave better?  Remember Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” lyric “…God is watching us…”?

How well do toll booth and red light cameras work? How well do surveillance cameras work in finding a criminal offender? They do a pretty good job of identifying the culprits. The Boston Marathon case is a sterling example.

Given that we are being watched a lot of the time, we might look at how our behavior affects other people. The ripple effect is a real event. If one person conforms to society’s norms more now than before surveillance, how does that reflect into society as a whole? For the most part, we cannot fully determine such effects but we know they can be multifaceted.

A few days ago, driving along a country road, I heard something that sounded like a cat in trouble, an extended stressed “meow!!” sound.  I stopped and turned the car around to investigate. I found two young children on a porch, who were doing what young children do: testing their voices. The older of them asked me, “why did you turn around?”

I was a little surprised that he had made this observation. I told him that I had heard a sound that might be a cat in distress, and I came back to make sure everything was okay.

Caught on camera, my actions could have been interpreted in a number of ways. This youngster not only noticed what I did, but was bold enough and curious enough to ask about it.

And now, he might be aware that strangers can be concerned about what is happening nearby. And that someone became aware of his actions and sounds when he might not have expected that. 

While this situation might be classified as a kind of neighborhood watch (who needs a camera?), it was also a lesson in awareness of environment and that you never know who is listening or watching. Or why.


For more, see Finding The Tiger, A Coming of Age, “Secrets”, p. 156.

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