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What my dog taught me about the new Surveillance State


I’ve worked from home on and off over the years, and one of the many perks of doing so – besides higher productivity, creating your own schedule, and not wearing pants – is that I’m kept company by trusty canine companion, Buddy. Recently though, I’ve been working out of an office most of the week. I weighed the pros and cons of bringing Buddy to the office, but unfortunately for him, “continued companionship” lost out to “he might bite the boss” (just by a nose), so unfortunately for Buddy, he stays home alone.

My wife and I hired a dog walker and hoped that Buddy wouldn’t get too sad, but our curiosity was eating us up inside – what does the dog do all day? So my wife bought a Dropcam. For those that aren’t familiar with it, Dropcam is a wi-fi video camera that you can view remotely from your computer, tablet, or phone. We justified the $140 purchase because a stranger would be entering our home to walk our dog, but truth be told, we just wanted to spy on Buddy.

The service is actually pretty great. It’s incredibly easy to install, the image looks good enough, you can take photos, and can even view a timeline of what has been recorded and watch moments where activity registered. But I must say… Buddy doesn’t do very much. He lies on the bed. He licks his balls, stares out the window. He reads a magazine here or there, and occasionally makes himself an omelet when he’s hungry, but that’s really it. Typical dog stuff. So now, the camera gets just as much use as a two-way radio between my wife and her dedicated kitchen assistant, otherwise known as me.

The Knicks lost, and seeing a grown man cry  in his boxers must have been a horrifying site for everyone involved.

A few weekends ago she went on a overnight trip with her girlfriends. I was enjoying the “Weekend of Pete”, spending a beautifully sunny, Los Angeles afternoon the way anyone would – sitting on the couch in my boxers with a plate of nachos, a fridge full of beers and the NBA on the television, when I noticed the blue light on the Dropcam peering in my direction, looking at me, judging me. I could swear I could hear my wife and her friends ridiculing me from 100 miles away, though she claims she never did. I quickly unplugged the camera, and got myself another beer got showered, dressed, and went out side to enjoy the sunshine.

But the experience made me really question the need for a security camera in the home. Not because the Knicks lost and seeing a grown man cry in his boxers must have been a horrifying sight for everyone involved. It’s not the idea of being watched. After all, real, honest to goodness privacy went out the window before Glassholes all across this country attached a camera to their faces. 

It’s the watching. It is the TMZing of our culture that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage,” but these days all the world is reality television. Catch someone tripping and falling on video? Throw it up on YouTube! Your kid can knows every word of “Put a Ring On It”? Hurry, get the camera and post it to Facebook. Whether it’s Lindsey Lohan on trial or Jodi Arias, Amanda Bynes’ breakdown or Tila Tequila’s, we talk about how horrible it is, how it’s not newsworthy, yet fail to recognize our complicity in it being shown. It’s shown because we keep watching. We’ll watch anything (unless it’s on NBC).

Sure, if I had a kid and the Dropcam caught the nanny tossing him around like a rag doll I’d be singing a different tune. But I don’t need a camera to tell me my dog licks his balls. Know how I know he licks his balls? Because he can.

And this is just about voyeurism, either. Before my last work-from-home stint, I worked for a company that had security cameras installed to watch their employees’ behavior, including monitoring our internet activity. If we checked our phones, we’d get a call from the higher ups warning us to get back to work. Seriously. Now, it’s their company and I guess they can do what they want, but to be honest, the idea of messing around, of doing anything except coming to work and doing the best job that I could, never even occurred to me before I saw that I was being watched. My feeling was that if I’m considered so unworthy of being trusted, then what’s the point of being trustworthy?

I’m not a Libertarian about this stuff; from Boston to Bakersfield, the increase of cameras in our society has provided real value to law enforcement as well as necessary checks on the abuse of their power. But where do we draw the line between what’s an acceptable intrusion on our privacy and what’s a violation of trust? As a society, we need to remember that giving people the benefit of the doubt brings benefits in return. At least, that’s what Buddy says when his head’s not between his legs.

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