Sample Chapters: Excerpts

Sample Chapters

Chapter 4: Watching the Detectives Watching the Neighbors in the Golden Age of Surveillance (excerpt

The age of Peep is the golden age of surveillance. Surveillance makes Peep possible, and Peep makes surveillance increasingly permissible. Under the auspices of Peep culture, Surveillance is safety, entertainment, deterrent, and babysitter all rolled into one. Whether it’s surveillance we undertake on our own initiative or surveillance undertaken by police and governments on our behalf, the customers at SpyTech not only want surveillance, they want surveillance in every aspect of their lives – as protection, as deterrent, as baby sitter, and as an ongoing, cheap and plentiful source of entertainment. 
Stéphane Leman-Langlois, a University of Montreal criminologist, conducted focus groups in a crime ridden downtown Montreal neighborhood where CCTV cameras had recently been installed. He was trying to take the pulse of residents regarding how they felt about the cameras invading their space. Now wanting to influence them, Leman-Langlois simply asked residents to discuss their feelings on safety and security. The problem, as Leman-Langlois tells me, was that the cameras were almost never mentioned unless he directly asked people what they felt about them. They didn’t notice them, they didn’t think about them, and, if asked, they either dismissed them as irrelevant or cautiously welcomed them so long as they didn’t lead to reductions in the number of actual police patrolling the streets. “The only conclusion about the perception of surveillance,” Leman-Langlois ultimately concludes, “is that they don’t perceive it. They don’t see it as surveillance at all.”
In other words, nobody is worrying about surveillance. In fact, the prevailing attitude is that people actually want surveillance.
Okay, saying that nobody is worrying is a bit much. There are lots of people of worrying. There are think tank-ers,  academics, government appointees, politicians, lawyers, art collectives and as many paranoids of the polis as you can shake a stick at. It’s just that they are on the fringe of North American and, to a lesser extent, Western European opinion. Again and again people make it clear that first and foremost they want to be safe. And if takes surveillance cameras and other surveillance-like applications to keep them (and their property) safe, then go for it.
There are limits, it’s true. But even the limits seem to have limits. Polls that take the pulse of America suggest that support for surveillance remains high even when that surveillance includes what were once considered blatantly illegal domestic interceptions of communications without a warrant in direct violation of the country’s Constitutional protections. A 2006 poll reported that 70 percent of respondents “would not be willing to support governmental monitoring of the communications of ‘ordinary Americans.’ ” On the other hand, an almost equal number—68 percent – agreed that monitoring would be fine if it was only directed at “Americans the government is suspicious of.” [DAM NAGOURNEY and JANET ELDER, “New Poll Finds Mixed Support for Wiretaps,” New York Times, January 27, 2006] These numbers were evident in the summer of 2008 when the issue of domestic spying returned to Congress and few noticed or cared. As Congress wrestled with demands from the Bush White House for an extension of domestic spying provisions that the New York Times described in an editorial as largely “unnecessary and a threat to the Bill of Rights”, the citizenry were elsewhere: worrying about high gas prices and a faltering economy, watching Tiger Woods win yet another US Open, and debating which blockbuster summer movie comic-book character – Iron Man, Hulk, or Batman – could kick the most ass. [EditorialMr. Bush v. the Bill of Rights Published: June 18, 2008] By the end of summer, a Democratic Congress had approved “the biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years” and given a widely unpopular lame duck president everything he wanted including immunity for phone companies that cooperated in the illegal National Security Agency domestic wiretapping program the White House set in motion after 9/11. [Senate Approves Bill to Broaden Wiretap Powers By By ERIC LICHTBLAU July 10, 2008 ny times]
How will it all end? San Francisco’s Adam Jackson might just give us a clue. After moving into apartment in the rough Tenderloin neighborhood, Jackson stuck a webcam out his window, set up a website, and invited people to log in and watch his intersection. The idea, of course, was for everyone logging in to act as a kind of group neighborhood watch, willing and able to call the police. Two cameras and a microphone recorded 24 hours a day and there was even an adjoining chat room so that people could talk amongst themselves while waiting for moments of excitement. Here we can see very precisely how surveillance merges with and encourages Peep culture, and vice versa. Though some in the community are pissed off, Jackson’s persistence leads to the inevitable success of his home surveillance/entertainment system: clips posted to YouTube of fights, car chases and break-ins swell the initial small audience to over 500,000 viewers. Now, Jackson is planning to take it to the next level – his new site will provide anyone with a good view of an intersection the technology and platform to set up cameras to monitor their street corners. [Frontwindow spy cam puts Tenderloin on the Web C.W. Nevius Saturday, December 6, 2008 San Francisco Chronicle]


The Book: The Peep Diaries

The Peep Diaries will be Published by City Lights Books in May 2009
ISBN 1991022

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The Publisher: City Lights

City Lights Books

City Lights Publishers

In June of 1955, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, launched City Lights Publications with the Pocket Poets Series. The first volume was a collection of his own poems, Pictures of the Gone World, which has since become a classic of beat literature and… more...


Author! Author!

Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, culture commentator and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life. He is the author of six books including the novel The Program and the nonfiction book The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves… more...