George Orwell would be horrified.

It’s 60 years since the creation of his dystopian nightmare and instead of outrage, we have apathy. Big Brother is on every corner. His giant eye is watching from bell towers and doorways, streetlamps and trees. Almost everywhere we go, our every act is monitored and recorded.

For our own good.

Big Brother doesn’t need a lens to keep track of us. He has systems floating way up high in space and we subscribe to the service voluntarily. It might be the greatest trick of all: The gadgets being used to monitor us are things we pay for ourselves. The cell phones we can’t live without. The navigational systems mounted on our dashboards. The music players with GPS capabilities happily enabled.

In the end, Big Brother didn’t force himself on us; he made us want him. The market introduced phones with 5 megapixel cameras that could shoot video and we ate them up. Global positioning devices allowed us to get to grandma’s house in Scarsdale without stopping at every gas station for directions.

The surveillance cameras started going up and we tolerated it, if we noticed at all. There is a sense of security, after all, about a fortified eye watching the ATM kiosk where we withdraw money in the dark. You don’t mind that cameras scan the Walmart parking lot because you don’t want to get mugged out there while loading your groceries.

You have a Web cam mounted on your home computer. Every yahoo with a $100 Flip cam is filming a docudrama downtown and you barely notice enough to become annoyed. Why should you care that police have installed state-of-the art cameras at the top of the Lewiston City Building and all over the park?

He eased us into it, Big Brother did, and behold the silence that greets his growing presence.

Sure, there was anger when the Patriot Act came along with all of its phone-tapping, e-mail-reading goodness. But it was long after the act was passed. The senators who passed the bill later said they hadn’t even read it before they signed with fingers that still trembled with 9/11 rage.

And now look at this: Five dozen cameras scan the grounds at Lewiston High School. Others watch the library, a whole platoon of them monitor the downtown. It will be hard to roam much of the city at all without being watched. And yet there has been little criticism so far and a heaping helping of praise.

And why not? Cameras make your average Joe and Josephine feel safer. The high-resolution security guards may act as a deterrent, after all, and that’s half the battle.

Thinking of mugging an old lady in Kennedy Park? Be mindful of the eyes upon you, son.

Kind of fancy the streetwalker giving you a come-hither look? Better think twice before strolling over there to negotiate a price.

You and the wife feeling a little frisky while walking the ball field under the light of the moon? You could seize the moment and make a fine memory, sure. But be mindful that it might become a spectator sport rather than an act of romance.

Not to mention a prosecutable offense.

How you feel about the realization of this part of Orwell’s vision depends on who you are. Do you trust your police and your government leaders to use the technology with responsibility? Or do you feel that some cop on his lunch break is peering into your windows to catch a glimpse of your private moments or to see if you are abusing prescription drugs?

Among us are trusting souls and the outright paranoid. In between are those who feel uneasy about this new state of watchfulness where all the world really is a stage.

Uneasy, yes. But enough to take on Big Brother?

How can any of us argue the issue of privacy with a straight face? When we share the most intimate and mundane details of our lives on Twitter? Or talk about last night’s party on the cell phone while standing in line at the grocery store?

Hard-drinking party animals film each other throwing up and falling down and post it on YouTube. Hoodlums will burglarize and trash a home and record the whole thing to share with friends. One man made a billion dollars just by wandering around and filming girls who gleefully lift their shirts for camera crews.

Complaining about cameras at the top of city hall, in light of our new bent for exhibitionism, is like complaining about nipples at a nude beach.

I should point out that I believe the people behind the cameras in Lewiston have nothing but good intentions. They are using technology to keep citizens safe and you can’t fault them for that. It’s not their role in this that deserves scrutiny, but our own.

We’ve reached a level of comfort with being put on display where 20 years ago, or even 10, we might have been mortified. You have to wonder what we might become complacent about next.

Me, I’m utterly conflicted. When the cameras turn my way, I won’t know whether to cover my face or try to put on a good show for posterity.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can tell him how you feel about Big Brother at [email protected]


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