We were given a practical assignment in class to create a 3 minute, in-camera edit, potentially viral video about surveillance. My group was cracked out on too little sleep, which is perfect for creating off-the-wall ideas. We decided to create the Surveillance Hugga-Box:
There was a small hole cut in the front of the box, just big enough to house a camera lens. A group member got inside the box with a video camera and walked around the streets surveying random people. Another group member shot footage of the Hugga-Box in action.
I got into (or more correctly, under) the box. It was AWESOME. You know when you’re a kid and you cover your eyes, thinking that the rest of the world can’t see you? It was like that, only cooler because you got to spy on people at the same time. But obviously spy on people, because, obviously, they can see the box. I found myself “targeting” strangers with my camera, sneaking up on them little by little to see when they would acknowledge me and how they would react. I got more than a couple dirty looks, but some people laughed and enjoyed the weirdness. The angry people were the best though. The box gave me this peculiar license to piss people off- because, really, what were they going to do to me? I was a box, and essentially all I did was look at them…well, and record them, but is there a difference really? When we look at people with our eyes don’t we “record” them in a sense?
I liken the Surveillance Hugga-Box to “blue light” cameras in Chicago, which is where I’m from originally. They are big boxes with a bright, blue light placed high up on a street lamp. There are a large amount of these cameras in high crime (re: African-American and Hispanic) areas of the city.
There are various opinions on these “Police Observation Devices” (PODs- the official police term). Recently data has been released to show no significant impact in the decrease of crime. Some locals want more boxes, some say it’s a waste of tax-payer dollars, and that PODs are no replacement for the physical presence of police. The ACLU of Illinois issued a report demanding that a moratorium be placed upon the PODs pending further investigation into their effectiveness.
It’s interesting to me that these PODs have been around since 2003, and have increased in number. They slowly crept from 80 PODs to over 1,000 around the city. People have always questioned the invasion of privacy, but, for the most part, nothing has been done to take them down. We seem comfortable with them, they are not too intrusive.
So why was our Hugga-Box met with more visible reaction than these PODs? I think one of the main differences is the addition of movement. Police say PODs are effective because of their mere presence suggests someone is watching you; but simultaneously, their presence can be ignored, so people will still commit crimes, or not be too outraged by the evolving Orwellian environment. The Hugga-Box was transparent in its purpose: I followed people around, they could see me recording them, they could interact with me (I got shoved a couple times). But interestingly, even the people who were annoyed didn’t stop me from surveying them. No one asked me what I was doing, even though there was unmistakably a person in the box. The Hugga-Box had presence and movement, which made its presence more “real” or perhaps even threatening to people.
Take a gander and see what you think! Are you always aware of who is watching you? Why?