Who’s Watching Whom?: Surveillance Practices, Processes, and Problems

These meLectures are proving that the most difficult thing about creating a video has nothing to do with getting enough footage, or editing different clips together coherently, but keeping the film short(ish)! To keep these to a maximum of two fifteen-minute videos (and I’m hoping some weeks they’ll be half that), I’ve not only been cutting the odd – or sometimes frequent – stuff-up when my hold on the English language slips away like the Milennium Falcon in an asteroid field (much culture you have, hmmm?), but I’m constantly finding myself cutting substantial passages so viewers aren’t watching me sit in front of them until I grow mushrooms… So, if you’re keen for a few ‘excerpts’, here are some more reflections along with the latest meLecture…


In addition to those I mention in the video, another major factor that contributes to this all-pervasive culture of surveillance – this surveillance society – is a climate of fear. Indeed, we might almost call this a self-perpetuating climate of fear. Reflecting on 9/11, I asked a group of students this week whether they thought that, even though they had been born before 2001, they considered themselves to have experienced a ‘pre-9/11’ world. I was in first year university at the time of the September 11 attack and it was clear then that we were witnessing a groundbreaking moment after which nothing would be the same. There are other events also, like the Colombine High School massacre in April 1999, as well as similar tragedies in the United States and elsewhere in the world, which invariably see issues of surveillance being raised and (re)negotiated in the media. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) contains some fascinating sequences of bizarre news reports that exemplify the construction of a climate of fear – or even better, panic. Can you draw any parallels to Australia in this regard?


As I mention in the meLecture, many acts of surveillance have unquestionable value and cannot be simply shoved into a mono-dimensional vision of a dystopian world. However, the question of ‘when is it going too far?’ is a very tricky one to navigate. Is it acceptable for parents to ‘friend’ their children on Facebook to keep an eye on them? Is it okay for crossing guards to secretly film dangerous drivers with camera-equipped stop signs? Is it justifiable for school administrators to keep track of their students’ eating habits with the use of smart cards? What about the RFID chip? This device has countless potential applications and I remember when I was first looking into this some years ago, I read somewhere that it was estimated that by 2020, the vast majority of American citizens would have one implanted under their skin… What do you think about this? If you find this or other examples of surveillance ‘freaky’ – if not downright disturbing – try to take a ‘step back’ and examine what it means about digital media culture today…

That’s enough from me – I’ll let you go so you can turn around and check behind you…



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