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We happily share our lives on Facebook, but are outraged when we read about their scheme to manipulate our emotions.
Right now, the spread of surveillance systems has a lot of momentum, though, ironically, they have rarely faced real scrutiny. But we also need freedom from the quietly oppressive forces in our world.
Coming on the heels of his involvement in the Edward Snowden affair, Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s former editor, wrote that “securicrats” in the United States and United Kingdom are working to “collect and store ‘all the signals all the time’—that means all digital life, including internet searches and all phone calls, texts, and emails we make and send each other.” This is the cultural logic of the present moment: making human life endlessly visible, recordable, sortable, accountable, with little regard for how this might feel to millions of people. In the case of surveillance, we need freedom from insidious kinds of supervision, coercion, expectation, and obligation, all of which are rife in a world of ubiquitous surveillance.
But even as surveillance becomes a dominant force organizing our world, most Americans haven’t had an informed conversation about how it is changing the way we live, work, play, and even wage war.
We do not yet know who benefits from all this monitoring, classifying, and archiving of our behavior.
For an increasing number of American workers, the boss can see almost everything, even if you are a freelancer working in sweatpants at the kitchen table.
Productivity software can take a snapshot every 10 minutes and combine them with keystroke analysis to create a “focus score” or “intensity score” for each worker. We may not realize it, but surveillance changes us, sometimes subtly, more often profoundly as we try to manage the impression we make on social media or on security cameras.
Social psychologists looking at workplace surveillance have found ample evidence that even the threat of surveillance is enough to change behavior, making workers “follow rules more carefully and act more subservient,” as well as experiencing greater stress, a loss of personal control, and “a decreased sense of procedural justice.” It’s harder to work when you know a camera is perched over your shoulder and productivity software is analyzing your keystrokes for maximum efficiency.
Employers might like such productivity metrics, but rarely consider the cost to workers who feel like they have no place to hide. In this sense, surveillance can add an emotional charge to an existing atmosphere: It may even channel our chaotic energies into officially approved channels with names like vigilance, dread, fear, relief, certainty, permanence, compliance, consumption, adding a layer of meaning to the social scene that we can feel in our gut or on the back of our neck.
Balancing between national security and individual privacy is seemingly a daunting task that does not promise an amicable solution in the near future.
There are so many controversies surrounding this issue where people with opposing opinions are striving to ensure that their views dominate.