Surveillance, Children and The Russian MeteorThomas Beller
A screaming comes across a sky. A fireball. There is an explosion. The Russian Meteor. I watch one video after another. All taken either by surveillance cameras or by dashboard cams–i.e. streaming video of a driver’s view through the windshield. The best video, the one I replayed a few times, was a split screen: What the driver saw, and the driver himself. I watched his face. A cool customer. His expression doesn’t change much, but it does.
I think of another image from that morning. A group of kids walking down the sidewalk single file. A girl at the end of the line. White shirt. Pink pants.
A construction worked stands in the intersection of Pitt and Leontine with his raised hand like an impromptu crossing guard.
“Look who it is,” I say.
“Who?” says my wife, in the passanger seat. And then, “Oh my God!”
Our daughter. We had just dropped her off. Brought her to the big group of kids massing for the two block march to the Prytania theater, a field trip. Seeing her now, just a few minutes later, is like hearing a song you love on the radio. Even though you own that song and can play it whenever you want, you turn it way up. Or is it like taking a picture of your kid and then looking at your phone while a living version of the picture stands before you?
What it is, in that moment, is nice. But also a bit strange.
We roll down the windows, yell out to her. I give a little honk. There is a split second of tension when the construction worker looks to see who has honked and why. He sees the waving parents, looks back to where they look, and sees a little girl jumping and waving back.
The amount of time between this excited greeting and when we last saw her was the time it took to get a cup of coffee at Green to Go in the JCC lobby. But now we are in a car, and a pane of glass separates us from the action unfolding before us.
Is a car windshield the equivalent of the glass surface of a smartphone? Something which somehow englamours everything that lies beyond it?
Ten minutes after that I was looking through various Siberian windshields. The video speaks for itself though I will say that, having now seen streaming footage of the inside of a variety of cars, it amazes me what people listen to on the radio.
But my next thought was about how prevalent these dashboard cams were, the traffic cams. Way back in the late 90’s there was a great wringing of hands, or waving of them, about what the internet would do to the fabric of our lives. The sense of was of a parallel world. It felt overblown then. But 15 or so years later it’s coming to bear in our reality. One consequence of this is that if you were inclined you could probably spend a lot of time watching you children without their knowing you are watching.
Catching some natural phenomenon on film – metaphorically speaking – is lovely, amusing, haunting. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before every parent starts to struggle, in the same way we now try and manage the various streams of images available to our children, with how much of our children we make available to us.