Friday, February 17, 2023

The Recorded Generation

Young people today have known surveillance since the crib!

An "investment advisor" from one of the investment houses I use, called me.  I don't have an assigned advisor anymore and the new guys will cold-call me, hoping to be assigned to my account, so they can have a taste of the action, if they can persuade me to buy some fund.  Yes, they are actually salesmen, not advisors, and they are on commission.

Anyway, I told the guy to send me an e-mail and he did, but he insists on talking over the phone, which is a boomer trick.  Unless the call is recorded, well, anything they say can't really be relied on.  A salesman can make all the verbal promises in the world, but unless there is some record of them, what is binding is what is in the written contract.  And salesmen know this - or knew this - back in the day, making one pie-in-the-sky promise after another, anything to make a sale, knowing that their verbal promises were unenforecable without some record of them.

I told the "advisor" that I never leave my phone ringer on (true) and he would be better off to contact me by e-mail.  I suspect I will never hear from him again.  This is not the first time this has happened, either.  People call but won't even text or e-mail because they don't want to create a written record or paper-trail of what was said.  In most cases, written records or recordings never help you - they only sink you.  The more you can put "off the record" the better off you are - particularly if you are doing something shady, like selling used cars.

It struck me, though, that in our modern era of Ring doorbells, security cameras, smart phones, and text records, that it must be hard to be a con-man anymore, as people can record your every move.  No wonder every phone call you get is some sort of scam.  No wonder I turn my ringer off on my phone!  Why bother answering one "SPAM RISK" call after another?

To young people today, though, this must seem normal.  After all, when they were infants, their parents snooped on them with a "baby monitor" which was later upgraded to a "nursery cam".  Parents put hidden cameras inside their own homes to record the baby sitter or even their own children.  Cameras are in schools, where we work, where we shop, where we play.  And if there isn't a camera installed, well, there is some jerk with his cell phone, willing to record at a moment's notice for that sweet, sweet, "Tick-Tock" karma that they all crave.

We are a surveillance generation - well the younger generation is, anyway.

I mentioned before how, when "answering machines" came out, there was a palpable fear among many people about recording the outgoing message or even leaving a message on the machine. Talking into a microphone was seen as a big deal to our parents' generation, and who are you buster to think what you have to say is worth recording?  Leave that to the announcers, like Johnny Olsen, who are paid to do this!

I don't know how many times, back in the 1980's, I would call someone one and get their answering machine, and the outgoing message was, "Hello?  Is this thing recording?  What am I supposed to say?" and so on.  The messages they left on other people's machines were about the same.  Answering machine stage fright, I called it.  The next generation had less of a problem with this.

Today, you are "on stage" all the time - and we've raised a generation of narcissists as a result.  Everyone is a "performer" or "content creator" doing a twerk on Tick-Tock in the middle of a Wendy's for Imaginary Internet Style Points - or worse yet, a "prank, bro!"   No answering machine stage fright with these folks - you can't shut them up!

Perhaps this is what Andy Warhol meant by "in the future, everyone will be a celebrity for 15 minutes" - he foresaw that technology would turn us all into actors on a stage.  Today, people put on a show about their lives - they groom their Facebook page to make everything seem more fabulous than it actually is.

And maybe this is a good thing, to promote self-esteem.  Or maybe not - when reality conflicts with the Facebook facade, who will win?  When nothing in life seems as fabulous as your Tick Tock videos, how will that make you feel?

Moreover, how does being "on stage" 24/7 affect your psyche?  At the very least, it must be tiresome.  Makeup! Lights! Camera! Action!

Even the dating scene is under surveillance.  It used to be you could meet someone and if you made awkward small-talk, it didn't follow you for life.  But today?  You say the wrong thing on Tinder and it will be re-posted 1,000 times across the Internet.    Of course, some folks are just forgoing the dating scene entirely and just monetizing their bodies on OnlyFans.   Your 15 minutes of fame may be as a porn star!

What a weird world we live in!

Now granted, maybe there are advantages to living in our surveillance nation.  Crimes caught on camera can be prosecuted - at least some of the time.  Video, as it turns out, is often a very unreliable witness.  People often start filming after an incident has started or the video is incomplete or even edited to create a bias.

These videos also heighten our awareness of crime.  Crime in general has been down, historically (like for all time) seeing an uptick only since the pandemic.  And since crimes are often caught on camera (often by the criminals themselves, who inexplicably document their malfeasance) we are far more aware of how horrendous these crimes are.  It is sad, but true, that every day, in some town or city in America, someone is assaulted or killed and - outside of the immediate area - the rest of the country never hears about it unless there is compelling video for the evening news.

But even with these advantages, I am not sure our surveillance nation is a good thing.  That being said, it isn't about to change, either.  Cameras are tiny, cheap, and easy to install.  They aren't going away anytime soon. Companies use them to prevent shrinkage (shoplifting) and discourage crime.  Not having a security camera might today be seen as negligence on the part of a company or store owner.

Dashboard cameras can catch other drivers in the act of being a jerk - or causing an accident. And body cams can either vindicate or convict a policeman or criminal - depending on what happened or how you interpret the video footage.

I said "footage" and it is interesting how people still say "video tape" or "tape recording" or other archaic terms from the Nixon era.  I wonder how long it will be before we drop these quaint phrases?  Probably when the boomers are gone...

Funny thing, though.  Even though we are all being recorded, all the time, it seems that people are more than willing to be jerks to each other - often when they know they are being recorded.  Are people being more jerk-ass than before, or are we just noticing it more, because it is all getting caught on "tape"?