Freedom is gone in the age of cell phone surveillance by good citizens

So shouted a grown man after an elderly termagant scolded him for failing to wear a facial covering in Costco.  That the foaming hollerer hailed from the Sunshine State (home of the much mocked "Florida man") and was wearing a scarlet t-shirt touting America's global supremacy suggested to many the outburst was a product of pituitary malfunction. 

But the real catalyst wasn't the mask-shaming.  It wasn't even the COVID-conscious shrew.  Rather, it was another nosy shopper recording the exchange.  "Back the f--- up and put your f------ phone down!" the chippy mouth-free rebel yelled at the cameraman before approaching him menacingly. 

Like the law of gravity, the footage ineluctably made its way to social media, where it diffused quickly thanks to the sadist fascination of outrage-mongers.  Mob kapellmeister and Madoff-wannabe Shaun King tried identifying the man.  Numerous media outlets reposted the video. 

The bulk-buying Mr. Hyde was revealed: a salesman for the Ted Todd Insurance company.  As is always the case with recordings of someone's emotional low point, the target was relieved of his job.  "[His] behavior in the video is in direct conflict with our company values and [his] employment has been terminated," the brokerage firm announced

The irony is that the poor cluck was right all along: he was being threatened.  His livelihood was in danger because public video recordings are now a weapon in our social media–addled society. 

Two weeks ago, a white woman was caught on camera having a hysterical outburst when a black man accused her of calling him the n-word.  The clip begins with the slur complainant — Karlos Dillard — lobbing the accusation, providing no evidential context to back it up.  Dillard then shows the woman's license plate and home address, all while she caterwauls, desperately trying to obscure her face.

The histrionics were roundly mocked on Twitter.  But the woman's dotty conduct, teary vociferating and all, was understandable.  She faced ruination.  And it nearly came.  The recording became another internet sensation, and she was branded an uncontextualized "Karen" for insulting blacks with impunity.

Her reputation was thankfully saved.  It turned out that Dillard has a history of claiming to be named an n-word and filming the reactions of those he preys on.  He's also a thespian by trade and flogged t-shirts about the encounter.  After attention was drawn to his larks, Dillard quietly took down the video.

Amy Cooper wasn't so lucky. The Central Park dog-walker was just charged with filing a false police report after footage of her dialing the NYPD and pretending to be threatened by a black male garnered national headlines.  Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the punishment, saying her "racist behavior" could have had "dire consequences for a [b]lack man."  The sentiment is shared by half of the country, which is currently enthralled with any and all notions of racial restitution. 

These instances, all spots of time permanently captured for mass viewing, aren't just enabled by the telephonic marvel we all keep in our pockets.  They're encouraged by the digital hordes who savor the meting out of just deserts online.  The righteousness with which people are punished for a few minutes' worth of weakness is religious in fervor.  The demand for pink slips, the harassment of family, the absence of quarter for sympathizers resemble imprecatory intonements.

The individual career losses that result are lamentable.  But the overall curtailment of privacy, even in public settings, is the more despairing loss.  Before widespread recording, heated ructions petered out.  But attention is oxygen to their generated fire.  Smart technology has created its own Chekist state, with unceasing surveillance and rewarded reporting.  The prestige is its own selling point: catch a racist on camera, and you too can be an overnight celebrity!  Just record and post!

The bait-and-reward structure is turning our eyes and ears into wetware that unthinkingly videos offensive behavior, pushes it immediately online, doing the algorithm's work for it.  We're employed as underhangmen for the wrongthink Grim Reaper, who scythes livelihoods like fields of ripe grain.

The increasing number of recorded outbursts is driven by a real anxiety — that at any given moment, years of hard work, dedication, experience, and focus can bend and crack when the mob gets a whiff of blood.  Conservatives who think of this dynamic as an unfortunate byproduct of technological innovation are kidding themselves.  Living in constant fear of losing your ability to earn a living is not freedom.

For the time being, recourse to the smartphone panopticon is limited.  But there is one effective defense.  The proper response to being recorded in public is to quote Melville: "to the devil with you and your daguerreotype!"  Then walk away.

So shouted a grown man after an elderly termagant scolded him for failing to wear a facial covering in Costco.  That the foaming hollerer hailed from the Sunshine State (home of the much mocked "Florida man") and was wearing a scarlet t-shirt touting America's global supremacy suggested to many the outburst was a product of pituitary malfunction. 

But the real catalyst wasn't the mask-shaming.  It wasn't even the COVID-conscious shrew.  Rather, it was another nosy shopper recording the exchange.  "Back the f--- up and put your f------ phone down!" the chippy mouth-free rebel yelled at the cameraman before approaching him menacingly. 

Like the law of gravity, the footage ineluctably made its way to social media, where it diffused quickly thanks to the sadist fascination of outrage-mongers.  Mob kapellmeister and Madoff-wannabe Shaun King tried identifying the man.  Numerous media outlets reposted the video. 

The bulk-buying Mr. Hyde was revealed: a salesman for the Ted Todd Insurance company.  As is always the case with recordings of someone's emotional low point, the target was relieved of his job.  "[His] behavior in the video is in direct conflict with our company values and [his] employment has been terminated," the brokerage firm announced

The irony is that the poor cluck was right all along: he was being threatened.  His livelihood was in danger because public video recordings are now a weapon in our social media–addled society. 

Two weeks ago, a white woman was caught on camera having a hysterical outburst when a black man accused her of calling him the n-word.  The clip begins with the slur complainant — Karlos Dillard — lobbing the accusation, providing no evidential context to back it up.  Dillard then shows the woman's license plate and home address, all while she caterwauls, desperately trying to obscure her face.

The histrionics were roundly mocked on Twitter.  But the woman's dotty conduct, teary vociferating and all, was understandable.  She faced ruination.  And it nearly came.  The recording became another internet sensation, and she was branded an uncontextualized "Karen" for insulting blacks with impunity.

Her reputation was thankfully saved.  It turned out that Dillard has a history of claiming to be named an n-word and filming the reactions of those he preys on.  He's also a thespian by trade and flogged t-shirts about the encounter.  After attention was drawn to his larks, Dillard quietly took down the video.

Amy Cooper wasn't so lucky. The Central Park dog-walker was just charged with filing a false police report after footage of her dialing the NYPD and pretending to be threatened by a black male garnered national headlines.  Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the punishment, saying her "racist behavior" could have had "dire consequences for a [b]lack man."  The sentiment is shared by half of the country, which is currently enthralled with any and all notions of racial restitution. 

These instances, all spots of time permanently captured for mass viewing, aren't just enabled by the telephonic marvel we all keep in our pockets.  They're encouraged by the digital hordes who savor the meting out of just deserts online.  The righteousness with which people are punished for a few minutes' worth of weakness is religious in fervor.  The demand for pink slips, the harassment of family, the absence of quarter for sympathizers resemble imprecatory intonements.

The individual career losses that result are lamentable.  But the overall curtailment of privacy, even in public settings, is the more despairing loss.  Before widespread recording, heated ructions petered out.  But attention is oxygen to their generated fire.  Smart technology has created its own Chekist state, with unceasing surveillance and rewarded reporting.  The prestige is its own selling point: catch a racist on camera, and you too can be an overnight celebrity!  Just record and post!

The bait-and-reward structure is turning our eyes and ears into wetware that unthinkingly videos offensive behavior, pushes it immediately online, doing the algorithm's work for it.  We're employed as underhangmen for the wrongthink Grim Reaper, who scythes livelihoods like fields of ripe grain.

The increasing number of recorded outbursts is driven by a real anxiety — that at any given moment, years of hard work, dedication, experience, and focus can bend and crack when the mob gets a whiff of blood.  Conservatives who think of this dynamic as an unfortunate byproduct of technological innovation are kidding themselves.  Living in constant fear of losing your ability to earn a living is not freedom.

For the time being, recourse to the smartphone panopticon is limited.  But there is one effective defense.  The proper response to being recorded in public is to quote Melville: "to the devil with you and your daguerreotype!"  Then walk away.