In today’s society, we are witnessing the constant increase in surveillance. From cameras at stop lights and in stores, drones of the sky, and even the tracking of our online search history, technology has allowed surveillance to thrive. Surveillance has proved to prevent crime, however, this comes at a price. As tracking has increased, our lack of privacy has rapidly deteriorated. We are constantly being watched and observed whether we are aware of the presence of others or not. Though there are several benefits to observation, the question must be asked: where is the line drawn between harmless observation and infringement of human rights? A prime example of this is in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell predicted the threat of surveillance and its control of society. In Orwell’s futuristic world the government is known as “Big Brother,” an organization constantly surveying its people through “telescreens,” a device similar to a one-way mirror. “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull,” (pp. 27). The constant surveillance in 1984 allowed the government to strip away individualism and outlaw ideas that did not conform to their own. Through surveillance and the tyranny that reigned in the novel, thinking outside the norm was prohibited and seen as a threat to “Big Brother’s” power. Though we have not experienced the silencing of individualism to this extreme, we are headed down a path to conformity if we continue to allow surveillance into every aspect of our lives. In our world, we must live with the consequences of our actions.The amount of surveillance we allow must be monitored for the benefit of human privacy.
As surveillance has increased, our trust of government systems has declined. A prime example is how police in New York have declared that they will deploy 14 drones in the city to monitor large crowds, investigate hazardous waste spills, handle hostage situations and even reach remote areas in crime scenes. The police made a statement saying that the drones will not be used for routine police patrols, unlawful surveillance or to enforce traffic laws. They also ensured the public that they would not be equipped with weapons. While there are possible benefits, this situation could lead to a decrease in privacy and obstruction of our unalienable rights. The police have assured people that they are only using surveillance for certain purposes. However, their actions are not open to the public, which could lead to a sense of skepticism, and paranoia. The distrust of the drones and their use continued to grow when police officials “rejected recommendations that would have required the department to regularly disclose how often they use the drones and why.” In fact, several lawyers felt that there were not enough restrictions placed on the police’s use of these drones, and this act attracted skepticism from many people.
A human phenomenon that occurs is our drive to conform to those around us. When all of our actions are open to the public, people are more likely to follow others. People tend to feel uncomfortable being themselves while watched, resulting in the dissipation of individuality. When everyone abides by the same way of living, those outside of the norm face the possibility of rejection. This results in overall conformation.
Groupthink is the human tendency to do what others are doing around them for the sake of protection and security, even if others know what they are doing is incorrect. A side effect of this group mentality is the lack of individualism. Groupthink promotes conformity. While it is a part of human nature, when magnified to this scale it could be detrimental to the advancement of society. Constant surveillance would and is allowing others to see into personal aspects of citizens’ lives. When these personal actions are exposed and people are able to see how others act, people will begin to conform. Basically, less privacy leads to greater conformity because there is more room for people to adapt to others.
The contradiction of groupthink is not an easy task, specifically with technology infringing in all aspects of our lives. However, as a society, we can make strides to limit surveillance and its side effect of groupthink. By limiting and controlling the use of surveillance and monitors, we could limit herd mentality and preserve individualism. If people are constantly being watched, and are told or can see others’ actions, they will give in to the pressure to conform through social norms. Because of our human nature and fear of social rejection, humans will most likely begin to act similarly.
By passing laws and making petitions we can make clear regulations discussing when surveillance is allowed, and when it invades citizens’ privacy. For example, in certain states in the U.S.A., it is illegal for cameras or any other type of surveillance to be placed in a restroom. These laws preserve some privacy that is valued by most everyone. Furthermore, we could call on the people to protest for their right to privacy should it become threatened. Of course, there are obstacles to these laws. Companies and establishments involved with monitoring and surveillance may feel that their rights are being taken away and their ability to have free speech and goals may be obstructed. Similarly, by limiting when people can be watched, companies that sell these forms of technology will crumble resulting in loss of jobs and an economic problem. Results, such as the increasing unemployment rate for these companies, are already being seen in our world. In London this past summer the legality of facial recognition and tracking through cameras came into question. They were using cameras to match faces to the criminal database and many argued this was leading to an authoritarian government. These are all possible outcomes, however, if we are to truly uphold the freedom and the right to privacy action must be taken.
There is distinct evidence of the effect surveillance has had on us. As surveillance increases, conformity will insue. This could eventually lead to a lack of individualism. If we allow groupthink to become an active part of our society we will face consequences such as authoritarianism and prohibition of individual thought. Orwell predicted this future for our society; it is up to us to prove him wrong.