Does Surveillance Make Us Better People?

Or did you not even realize you were being watched.


Our world is one of trade-offs. Should I use Google even though I know my search queries are being stored? Should I text my significant other a seductive photo, even though I know the NSA could see it and pass it around the office? Knowing I'm being watched — could be watched — has made me a different person.

One of the big questions in this argument over mass surveillance and data mining is: Does it make us morally better — safer — or just more obedient?

In my own life, it has made me neither “better” nor more obedient. It has, however, made me a more selective consumer. If you own a restaurant with a surveillance camera, you may have footage of me walking in and walking out. Maybe your staff even remembers me. I'm the girl who awkwardly walked in, looked around the room, maybe even asked one of your staff if I could use the restroom while I waited for a friend before you seated me. This is my routine, and sometimes I walk out; sometimes I stay and eat. What I'm doing is looking for surveillance cameras at your establishment. If I can't eat without a surveillance camera watching me, most of the time, I'll leave. My privacy matters and I vote with my dollar to say as much.

Likewise, when I browse the internet, I use Tor and search using an engine that won't track my queries, like DuckDuckGo. I've just become better at avoiding surveillance situations. I'm in the minority, though.

Many people simply don't care, because to them the trade-off is either worth it or they don't think about it. After all, 40 percent of people who participated in a Pew survey said they think it's acceptable for the government to spy on its own citizens. Likewise, when I tell people in my personal life about DuckDuckGo or to download an app that will encrypt their calls and messages — no technical work on their end — I get an uncommitted, “Eh, I'll check it out later.”

Brad Templeton would say we're letting our society become something out of George Orwell's 1984:

Trusting your instincts is lazy: Poker pro Liv Boeree on Big Think Edge

International poker champion Liv Boeree teaches decision-making for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
  • Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Stress is contagious. Resilience can be too.

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Five Hawks Down: watch the tragic migration of six Californian raptors

Tracking project establishes northern Argentina is wintering ground of Swainson's hawks

Image: @TrackingTalons / Ruland Kolen
popular
  • Watch these six dots move across the map and be moved yourself: this is a story about coming of age, discovery, hardship, death and survival.
  • Each dot is a tag attached to the talon of a Swainson's Hawk. We follow them on their very first migration, from northern California all the way down to Argentina.
  • After one year, only one is still alive.
Keep reading Show less

5 short podcasts to boost your creativity and success

These quick bursts of inspiration will brighten your day in 10 minutes or less.

Personal Growth

Podcasts can educate us on a variety of topics, but they don't have to last an hour or more to have an impact on the way you perceive the world. Here are five podcasts that will boost your creativity and well-being in 10 minutes or less.

Keep reading Show less