Thursday, November 02, 2006

Well, me got channels on CCTV



And so, with a shrug of the shoulders and a dramatic flick of the neck, Britain strides on towards a police state. We officially live in the most-watched nation in Europe. Surveillance is our destiny.

But forget about all that. I just wish these cameras had a bit more of a personal touch. With 4.2 million CCTV cameras on our streets, some maths boff-twat somewhere has switched on a calculator and worked out that's one for roughly every 14 of us.

That's quite staggering, but leads me to the worrying conclusion that it's actually pretty unlikely someone is watching me while I walk into Superdrug, then leave and head for HMV, where I suspiciously fiddle a bit in my coat pocket before stopping to tie my shoelace on the way to Boyes to stock up on cut-price Haribo Starmix. We started with one camera for every 14 people, but then you have to exlude yourself, leaving 13 possible voyeurs. When you remove all those likely to be in jobs other than CCTV monitoring, and also remove those below the working age, and invalids, you're statistically left with less than one person who could be watching you at a given moment.

Can there be a worse thought, after all the efforts we put in to make ourselves look sharp and presentable for the cameras, than that nobody is actually watching? The only likelihood that someone will ever view you is retrospectively as part of a crime investigation. Thus we are forced to petty crimes in the street in order to merely make ourselves seen. Each of us wrestling with our anonymity, hoping to banish it and somehow get the attention we crave. Of course, this all means the crime figures rise and then we need even more cameras. Mad world.

The authorities in Middlesbrough have got the right idea. A couple of months ago it became the first place to have talking CCTV cameras in the town centre. If you're misbehaving or generally look ragged and untidy, a real person sitting somewhere in front of a screen can shout at you over the loudspeaker. This is a marvellous idea... a bit of interaction in our surveillance is what we want. Some people just want somebody to talk to. And that's really why I sometimes stop and pretend to tie my shoelace in the street... it's a cry for chat.

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