Shrunken to Surveillance

Our House

Is this what we’ve become? People of surveillance?

That’s a question I’m asking myself this week in recognition that something deep inside me has changed.

After living on this block since 2009, when the worst thing we’ve experienced was someone swiping Stoney’s leash off the front porch, a few days ago we awoke to news that our car was vandalized.

We’ve grown accustomed to the squad cars and police helicopters over there. Yet, on that day, they were buzzing around our house like bees on a flowering orange tree over here.

A couple hours later the police wrapped up their investigation and I was handed a case number with a promise that a detective will follow-up. (We aren’t holding our breath) Later, I got on the phone and made arrangements for a rental car and scheduled a visit from an insurance adjuster.

I matter-of-factly dealt with the facts of the matter.

Later in the morning, Kristen and I went around to several houses offering our thanks and reassurance that everything would be OK. Over and over we heard that out of the stillness of the morning, something bad happened, and our neighbors were the ones  left telling police about our house, “This is such a quiet neighborhood. They are good neighbors. Nothing like this happens here.”

And, to be clear, while we indeed live in the city we truly do live in a quiet neighborhood. That’s not self-assurance. It’s a statement of fact. Our area is relatively crime free.

And yet our collective stillness was shattered. Our nerves wrecked. And, at least temporarily, our trust broken.

Amid a fog of frustration and insurance claims, I found myself wandering the aisles of Best Buy in search of a solution. A camera. Sure, it’s not going to stop something from happening. But, at least we’ve convinced ourselves, if there is a next time we’ll have something to help police.

With the camera installed I find myself deeply conflicted. I’m asking myself questions like this:

Is this what we’ve become? A house of surveillance?

Do we really watch and record stuff now? Really? 

Are we really people who want to keep an eye on things? Because if we are– than something fundamental has changed within us.

I want to be defined by a love of my neighborhood, not a love of security.

Our Children, Surveilled

This isn’t just our house, is it? We find ourselves living in a society of surveillance.

At my parent workshops about social media and mobile phones there are many questions about how to track and monitor children’s behavior at home and wherever they might go.

  • Apple’s devices have a built-in tracking service called Find My iPhone which allows me to pinpoint the location of every device my family owns.
  • You can buy devices, like the Circle, which attempt to track each family members internet usage and filter out apps and sites that parents don’t approve of.
  • Your cellular provider offers parental controls that monitor and track everything your child does with their phone.
  • You can even get devices that track the movements of your pets, you know, child replacements.

If you look around you’ll see that there are nearly limitless devices available which offer nearly limitless opportunities to track and monitor your children’s every waking moment.

What started in the crib with baby monitoring continues in the classroom with daily coursework updates  from teachers, notifications that your child missed the bus, and a million other things.

Why are we doing this?

All of this monitoring, tracking, and surveillance stands in stark contrast to what we know: We are living in the safest period of American Life in generations. The bad old days, when you and I were growing up in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, offered no such surveillance and much more crime. The closest thing we came to Find My iPhone was mom picking up the other phone to listen in to my conversations with girlfriends.

So why are we doing this?

Has the sacred trust with our children been broken? Has our relationship with our children degraded from parenting and trust to CIA-level monitoring and inborn distrust?

If you think about it you’ll see that we’ve resorted to installing spyware on our home networks to track our children, we’ve planted tracking bugs on them and called them phones for communication, and we’ve retrained teachers as spies.

Stumbling backwards I’m left to ask: Is this really the relationship you want with your kids? 

When I’m asked by [loving] parents about how to track their children’s online activities or read their text messages when they are sleeping I am deeply bothered and left with a single question: Why?

Has our role in the lives our our children shrunken to surveillance?

I want to know what’s broken inside of us– the parents— to feel the need to do that?

I want to know what it is in our culture– a culture fed daily by a news cycle of fear– that demands this insane Orwellian behavior.

It’s not the children who are broken. It’s the parents.

Moreover, as I reflect on this all in the scope of my own relationship with my children, all I know is this: I want my parenting to be defined by love, not a love of their security.






2 responses to “Shrunken to Surveillance”

  1. Paul Avatar

    I loved this article. Thanks, Adam.
    I totally agree–our desires for security in surveillance, or the authorities or a safer, gated community, or homeschool seems really based in a fear that God will not or cannot provide security for us. It’s fascinating that as we have statistically become much safer, we have also become more fearful and more willing to compromise values and freedoms in the name of safety. Interesting things to ponder this New Year’s Eve.

  2. steveorevo Avatar

    Very interesting article. Perhaps it’s partly the media that has been programming us with fear? Perhaps self-censorship is in order! Thank you for sharing.

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