We are being watched.
Webcams and security systems are catching all the activity in selected science labs, hotel lobbies, public plazas and convenience stores. If you walk into the scene, you’re part of the permanent record. You may say “I’m not important enough to spy on. I’m not doing anything WORTH watching.” Probably true. Nevertheless, any time you’re out of your home, there’s a chance you are on camera.
People who are “more important” than you may be behind some of those cameras, but don’t envy the V.I.P.’s. They are also under surveillance. In fact, one V.I.P. is probably more watched than anybody else on the planet. The President of the United States has highly trained experts observing him constantly. And though the Secret Service is supposed to be, well, secret … if you’ve seen a president – ANY president – you’ve seen his detail. The sunglasses, the earpiece, and the dour expression give it away. That, and the fact that they’re all clustered around the big cheese. The Secret Service also keeps an eye on everyone who comes near, so if you’ve seen the president, chances are good you’ve been seen as well, and sized up.
But now the tables have been turned and it’s the Secret Service being surveilled. Details still to come – but right now we’re on high alert. If a Columbian prostitute comes anywhere near that stern looking man in the dark suit, I may have to throw myself in harm’s way to keep something terrible from happening.
The lesson? No one is immune.
Perhaps you thought a humble Senior Citizen could stay out of the glare of the know-everything society, keeping to his mundane routine in an apartment building hidden away somewhere. But a new industry is springing up to keep track of our elders, tracking them as they move around their retirement cages, using sensors to note when they get out of bed, turn on the TV, go to the bathroom and make a meal.
There is a genuine and truly beneficial purpose to this sort of privacy invasion, especially in those cases where the person being monitored is all alone in the home. Were they to fall or otherwise become incapacitated, the interruption in their data stream might be enough to save a life.
But the fact remains – we’re all being watched … or CAPABLE of being watched at any time. Which brings us to the Hawthorne Effect. It’s a term business students come to know, based on a decades-old study of worker productivity at the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in the Chicago area.
Basically, people’s productivity improved during the study and slacked off once the study ended. The reason? People tend to respond when interest is shown in them. Because the workers knew they were being observed, every study-related change led to higher productivity. When the researchers stopped watching, a lull ensued.
Maybe we’re moving towards a world hyper-charged by the Hawthorne Effect, with everyone super-productive and on their best behavior! But what if I NEED a lull?
Back to our senior citizen whose movements are being remotely monitored in his home. Good thing, yes? But if you knew your daughter in San Francisco would get an e-mail every time you went to the bathroom, would you hold off on having that midday beer?
How do you respond to being watched?