If you don’t know by now, you are being watched. It’s all around us, from security cameras, to guards, and even the people around us. We are living in a very public world where the idea of true privacy is hard to come by. Similar to Michel Foucault panoptic model we are always exposed. What is really interesting is these public areas that we gather as friends or as strangers. I want to talk about how different public areas affect the way we as humans interact with the environment and with each other. When talking about surveillance in public places there are so many variables that change the way we act or think. I want to discuss the changes in physical space (what the area is for, and what people are using it for) and how other people in these places of gathering change the way we respond to the world. These two aspects really effect how comfortable we are and how we feel about things around us. I want to focus on public spaces of gathering where people are put in close proximity for similar goals.
The physical space itself changes how we adapt our behavior. Taking a stroll around the state house and really paying attention to the type and amount of surveillance really evokes strong emotions of how this is a place of power. The state house is clearly a government building and just that puts some connotation in peoples head. They associate it with power, order and ruling. It feels like a place they is for work and not play. When you combine this with all the cameras around its gives an uneasy feeling if you are not on the grounds for a particular reason. If this government building is a place you have never been, then it makes you feel out of place. This goes into how being unfamiliar with a location can really change how you react to a place of gathering.
I will start with a personal example. As a class we started out at our state capital house and walked several blocks down the street taking notes of points of surveillance. Cameras, Signs and even the people around us were all topics of discussion. During the walk I mentioned to my classmates that I felt more comfortable looking around when I was off the state grounds property. Classmates seemed to agree with this statement. After many observations I have found that people in unfamiliar places or places of authority tend to “behave” better. They have police cars parked outside that are unmanned, they are there just for show to make people believe that a law enforcement officer maybe around. The one part of the state house I would like to address is the tours. The state house offers tours so you can visit inside and see what is in that wonderful building. Cameras lurking every which way it can be unsettling and effect the way people behave. So the physical location and whether or not you have been there affects the way you feel about a space. This is the first variable in the way we act when we are placed in a location.
During the same walk with my classmates we had another seemly casual encounter that turns out to be something more. As we were walking along a fairly commercial street a vagrant man approached our group and asked if anyone of us had a lighter. (I am making the assumption based on his attire and the fact that many homeless to frequent the area we were in.) This was really interesting because of how uncomfortable it made the whole group. Before we were all being sort of chatty and just looking around. As the man approached us we all quieted down and sort of looked away. Its notable how people react to being talked to by strangers that they don’t want to talk to at that particular moment. Is it because it makes us uncomfortable or because we don’t want other to associate us with said stranger? When the man asked for the lighter, everyone in the group said no and we went on our way. I think shows how the people around us can affect our behaviors. Maybe one of my classmates did have a lighter for the homeless man to use but didn’t want to be associated I with smoking in fount of our professor. This shows that we can change our behaviors, on purpose or subconsciously, depending on the people around us.
So a big question whether or not the people around us can affect us on a disciplinary level. There are two sides of the spectrum. First we can look at riots and mob mentalities. We see examples in the world right now. In Ferguson, Missouri, Russia, and Egypt we see these riots or mass gatherings of people sometimes breaking the law. For this discussion the topic behind the riots isn’t the important thing. It’s the fact that people will group up and break law if they have enough people. With the mob mentality people feel like they are invincible and will not get in trouble as much because or people are around them are doing the same thing.
Back on the other side with have public situations where being around people can have a positive effect on your actions. Growing up we are always told by parents and grandparents “So-and So is going to be there, you better be on your best behavior”. Opposite the mob mentality these types of situations cause people to be on their best behavior when other are around. Maybe the difference is that in these situations we are trying to impress people rather than take them down.
These variables really change how we react to situations in a public setting. We have the physical space, is it a government building or a place you visit often. Is it the people that you are around, do you act differently with you family watching as you do as if your friends are watching? Or is a goal you share with the people around you? All of these drastically change how we behave and interaction is public social situations.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.
Wise, Macgregor. "Attention and Assemblage in the Clickable World." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 159-72. Print.