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[- Love and Hate in the Era of Surveillance:
By paullloydsargent, Section guest host history
Posted on Mon Jan 19th, 2004 at 07:24:39 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
Surveillance and notions of privacy are rather common points of discussion on sites like Discordia, but I am personally interested in a very specific affect of contemporary consumer technology. While picturing Romeo and Juliet with Google searches and Caller ID, I wonder what it must be like to be young and obsessively in love today, in an era of gadgets and services that allow one to watch, to track and trace, to snoop on one's object of desire? How has this technology affected "typical" human behavior? How has it affected dating, love and the all-encompassing teen crush?


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This may seem at first a silly trifle but I've been thinking much lately of what it must be like to be young and in love in this information age. I am only 33 and still single and so it is not that long ago in my own life that I was a rather dangerous Romantic--obsessive to a fault, like so many raised on John Hughes films and the literary "teacup tragedies" (in the words of Oscar Wilde) of courtly love. I have my own long list of embarrassing, Say Anything-type moments that in reality are less like romance and more like stalking. But I was raised (lest I get too nostalgic here) in simpler times: no email or IM or Google searches, no cell phones or pagers or Caller ID, no webcams or night vision camcorders or X10 2.4GHz Wireless Nanny-cams with XRay Vision Software! I cannot imagine what it would be like to be 16 or 17 today and suffering through one of those horrid teen angst breakups; the kind of parting that in my day might lead one to write twenty-paged, tear-smeared letters or drive, oh I don't know, 350 miles across three states, to try just one more time, face to face, to express some undying love.

From time to time on Discordia there are discussions about privacy and how it has been affected by technology, reverse Google searches, and the like (for quick catch up, check Trebor's No more phone numbers on beer mats). Now that "to Google" is common vernacular, I imagine that poor 17-year-old lout, fingers sticky with tears and snot, Googling the name of an ex-lover for a phone number, an address, a website, a JPEG, or some other electronic trace of a once-real love. But this process is so much more complex than what was before simply called "Directory Assistance." A recent review of options available on my local phone line included not only Call Waiting and Caller ID, but also Caller ID Block. Now you not only have to pay to keep your name out of the phone book, but it'll cost you to keep your number secret to those who have Caller ID, too, as I discovered while working as a teacher and trying to contact some of my more difficult students without giving away my home phone number. No such luck in this day and age.

Now imagine our troubled teen on that early version of AOL (which I believe has since been altered) that allowed users to put other AOL "friends" on a Buddy List--without the other party's knowledge. This meant that anytime your "Buddy" was online, you'd receive an instant message announcing their arrival into Cyberspace, and at least for a time in the mid-90s, it did so without informing your friend of their elevated "Buddy" status. Combined with a function in AOL's email program that allowed you to check whether messages you'd sent to fellow AOL users had been opened or not, one can easily picture an obsessive ex spending a lot more time on the computer and a lot less time getting out and meeting new people!

And speaking of meeting new people, online dating services have become rather fascinating gray areas between virtual anonymity and Internet surveillance. One that I have played with a bit through Salon, Nerve and the allows its users some privacy, as you may set up a page without a picture or without revealing any personal information if you like. At the same time, though, once another user has fallen madly in love with your virtual self, it is possible for them to stalk your use of the site. For instance, if User A is avoiding User B because User B is a creep who doesn't use spell check, User B can still monitor when User A is online and even check up on the last time User A visited the site with information readily available on a search page. This would be especially troubling if this couple had in fact already had a real world tryst and now User A was avoiding User B and trying to get on with his or her virtual sex life. And this isn't even considering the ramifications of User B's night-vision video clips of the two in the act, now posted on a server in the Ukraine, despite the fact User A wasn't of age in the first place.

So I again return to the image of a 17-year-old hopeless Romantic, a webcamming, over-cybersexed, IM addict, maybe even carrying around a Blackberry to Google an ex-lover on long car rides: What is this doing to socialization? What is it doing to dating? To young love? I was interested some years back by Sherry Turkle's article in Electronic Culture, Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality (a slightly different version can be found here), as she defended the type of culture created by VR games, MUDDS, and the like. I'm curious now how one might write about that 17-year-old of today. Is it "normal?" It is certainly "typical" behavior, despite what many horrified parents would want to believe. If ever you've peeked into a teen chat room or cruised through the thousands of teen webcam sites--where boys and girls of all ages talk about love and music and dreams and sex and swap gossip and MP3s and often naked pictures of each other--then you know first hand how prevalent virtual (and not so puppy) love is among kids today. How different is having an IM buddy living across the ocean from having a penpal of old? How different is it that in one tipsy evening you might IM that buddy a few webcam clicks of yourself in the nude? And, gasp!, what might Emily Post have to say about all of this!!


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Love and Hate in the Era of Surveillance: | 4 comments
[new] Expectations (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#1)
by Aileen on Thu Jan 22nd, 2004 at 11:59:01 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

Although the younger permanent members of my household are still younger than 17, issues of responsible use of the Internet and appropriate behavior have been the subject of extensive and protracted discussions here for some time. I have made it clear to my sons that I not only expect them to meet the same standards of behavior on line as in public space, I also expect them to pay attention to their friends' behavior. This is due not merely to my authoritarian aspirations (my 13-year-old recently presented to me at length that I am a terrible tyrant), but because my sons have more experience with computers and the Internet than most of their peers - as the other parents and teachers all know, which automatically puts them at the top of the list of suspected culprits, when undesirable computer-related behavior is noticed. What annoys me sometimes is that discussions about using the Internet responsibly don't seem to be taking place anywhere outside my household in this particular little universe where I live.

Aside from that, though, with more than enough opportunities to observe how young teenage boys (in particular) deal with all the media available to them, I think it would be important to question how they are learning to position themselves in relation to the world around them. What sense of time and space can a 12-year-old develop, who is constantly in at least two places at the same time - physically in one place, but enveloped in an exchange with others not physically present in the same place? Which is more important, the person talking to you or someone else signalling for attention? The traditional rule of having to be at a certain place (e.g. home) by a certain time becomes irrelevant, if you carry a personal tracking device (i.e. a cell phone). But since breaking that rule has always been an important assertion of independence before, what alternatives are there now? Or is being under constant surveillance, in one form or another, simply becoming normal?

There is no privacy on the Internet and even "private email" is a contradiction in terms. Could it be that feeling disturbed by receiving (or embarrassed by giving) unwanted attention is becoming a relic, a problem only for those of us old enough to remember "privacy"?

Love and Hate in the Era of Surveillance: | 4 comments

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