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Publisher's Summary

Never before has so much been known about so many. CCTV cameras, TSA scanners, NSA databases, big data marketers, predator drones, "stop and frisk" tactics, Facebook algorithms, hidden spyware, and even old-fashioned nosy neighbors - surveillance has become so ubiquitous that we take its presence for granted. While many types of surveillance are pitched as ways to make us safer, almost no one has examined the unintended consequences of living under constant scrutiny and how it changes the way we think and feel about the world. In Under Surveillance, Randolph Lewis offers a highly original look at the emotional, ethical, and aesthetic challenges of living with surveillance in America since 9/11.

Lewis explores the growth of surveillance in surprising places, such as childhood and nature. He traces the rise of businesses designed to provide surveillance and security, including those that cater to the Bible Belt's houses of worship. And he peers into the dark side of playful surveillance, such as eBay's Online guide to "Fun with Surveillance Gadgets." A worried but ultimately genial guide to this landscape, Lewis helps us see the hidden costs of living in a "control society" in which surveillance is deemed essential to governance and business alike.

©2017 University of Texas Press (P)2018 Redwood Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"An engaging, alarming, and enlightening book, one that is certain to be among the most important books on surveillance in the twenty-first century." (Siva Vaidhyanathan, University of Virginia)

"This incredibly compelling book provides a thoughtful and engaging exploration of the affective dimensions of contemporary surveillance." (Torin Monahan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) 

"A sprightly tour down some of the surveillance society's most claustrophobic corridors." (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and Walkaway)

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A timely read

~Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this audiobook.~

With the increasing surveillance and growth of smart technology, this book is about a timely topic. This book is broken into six chapters: Feeling Surveillance, Welcome to the Funopticon, Growing up Observed, Watching Walden, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, and The Business of Insecurity. The author cites his sources extensively and offers some philosophical questions along with the material presented. The author at times repeats concepts and can be a bit wordy. We truly don’t know what the impact of all this surveillance is at this time, and the future will judge where we went from acceptable to having crossed the line.

I found the narrator easy to listen to. There was a time when the quality of the recording seemed to change (starting in the last third of chapter 2).

I had a few thoughts and notable quotes:

Randolph Lewis speaks about citizen surveillance regarding policing and activism. He makes a point about the importance of these videos, as in the example he uses, the Kajieme Powell shooting, the police account doesn’t match the video evidence. However, he points out that “Mostly, what we get from his video is knowledge, not justice, not a preventive measure that stops the abuse.” (pg 28). It is easy to feel hopeful in the wake of the George Floyd case, but when so often we don’t see consequences, it would be unwise to forget that often there is no justice, even with video evidence.

“To my mind, I’ve got nothing to hide has become one of the most disingenuous phrases in the English language. Often spoken with a privileged voice that assumes it can hide what really needs to be hidden, that it has the power to pull the curtains when the need arises, it is generally a hollow boast. Those who utter it are rarely prepared for someone to start burrowing into every forgotten email, late-night purchase, speeding ticket, or ill-considered Twitter message that will outlive their corporeal selves. Even a strutting exhibitionist has something to hide: certain diary entries, genetic predispositions, financial mistakes, medical crises, teenage embarrassments, antisocial compulsions, sexual fantasies, radical dreams. We all have something that we want to shield from public view.” Pg. 10

There is some humor in the technology I use frequently being critiqued in this book (including the fact that I use kindle and goodreads for my reviews). The gamification or the entertainment provided by the technology that sells your data talked about during chapter 2 hits hard. The author points out that “...we are often having too much fun to notice how much we are revealing...” with our use of posting what we read on kindle, what we look at on Snapchat or what we tweet (pg. 69).

“Welcome to the “Funopticon,” a new metaphor that I want to suggest for the increasingly playful surveillance culture of the twenty-first century. Even as surveillance wraps itself around our bodies in ways that might strike some people as humiliating and exploitative, it is doing something else as well: it is operating in a way that doesn’t always feel oppressive or heavy, but rather feels like pleasure, convenience, choice, and community.” Pg. 54

I didn’t find all chapters as engaging as others, but that is personal preference. In the chapter Growing Up Observed, I expected it to focus more on social media and children of today, but instead there was a heavy focus on parents surveillance of children and on how abuse makes children more sensitive to surveillance. I think questioning the impact of constantly being surveilled your whole life is something that is interesting to address.

“Are you comfortable with a home security drone hovering over your house? Do you want your child’s school to monitor her social media posts? Do you mind if Yahoo! is scanning all of your personal emails for keywords provided by the NSA or FBI? Do you bristle at the idea of someone looking down at you from a CCTV camera? The answer may lie in your biography, particularly in aspects of your identity that make you feel empowered or not, autonomous or not, respected or not, vulnerable or not.” Pg. 95

The chapter, Watching Walden, ended up more wordy than necessary. I think the fact that I don't revere Thoreau doesn't help my perception of this chapter either. While there are things to be gleaned from his writing and life, I am far more critical of him than Randolph Lewis is (he briefly addresses the criticism, but focuses on whether or not Thoreau is a misogynist). His writing was not in fact reflective of the life he actually led and is a result of the privileged life that he had. I think the point about the increase of cameras, drones and other technology into natural spaces is a valid one, but the viewpoint of the chapter didn’t speak to me.

“Church surveillance is marketed, consumed, and deployed without a nod to structural issues such as gun laws, racialized and gendered poverty, the treatment of the mentally ill, or the ripple effects of living in an increasingly militarized culture. Instead, this segment of the Christian right dismisses such concerns by simply claiming that “evil” is at work, that their congregations are staring down an implacable force so potent that nothing can stop it except, perhaps, guns, locks, and security cameras.” Pg. 193