Daily Archives: April 22, 2015

Science Fiction Today – Surveillance

SSurveillance is an important issue especially in today’s world. A recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
(above if you have 30 minutes) highlights this importance with an interview with Edward Snowden.

Surveillance is a huge part of most science fiction, usually in some form of a dystopia. Part of what surveillance is used for is usually for some form of control. It is often presented as a path towards social good because people can be watched and tracked. This means when crimes are committed that they can figure out who actually did it. At the same time this often means disregarding any concept of privacy.

On one level there is external surveillance, where there is an idea of privacy behind closed doors. Then there is complete surveillance where it might be something injected into each person or installed in every location. Neither option is usually very appealing.

Public Surveillance

When we have surveillance in public the idea is usually to protect the public. It is often not just about being able to see what is going on, but being able to track the path of every citizen. When everything you do in public is potentially being watched how do you react?

There is an idea that if we know we are being watched we will behave better. At the same time in many stories it is not always about knowing that you are being watched, but the people in power watching nonetheless. The difference is simply whether the people in power are spying to try and capture people doing something wrong or if you are trying in some ways to prevent the wrongdoing.

Personal Surveillance

Personal surveillance brings the whole watching game to a completely different level. When suddenly everything a persons does can be on display to be watched so that at any given time someone could be watching. This means that everything you do could be scrutinized, taken out of context, or used against you. There is no way to not incriminate yourself because everything you do can be watched.

On another level what if not only what you do, but your vital signs could be tracked. If there could be a way to know when someone is having a heart attack or to tell when someone is in danger… The problem is again how much do you sacrifice? There is a thought that if at any point someone could see that you are in trouble then help could always be a moment away. At the same time the most private and personal moments would be on display at any given moment.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!