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At home, I'm chief of surveillance

Dec 5, 2013 - By The Baltimore Sun

And I've learned my boys thrive on privacy, independence

We are living in times of constant surveillance. Never alone, never unheard, we zoom through our incessant self-expression before the eyes and ears of multiple audiences, from the government to our high school buddies.

Since the Snowden leaks, we've all feigned surprise at the concept of our government gobbling the personal data of its citizens on a daily basis. Our brains draw comparisons of Uncle Sam to the giants of "V for Vendetta," or even Big Brother, but our shoulders shrug.

Our peers, friends, bosses, etc., have the inside track on telepathy via our own confidence in sites such as Facebook and Twitter. They also have the misfortune of hearing us call spaghetti "zesty stewed tomato sauce with sautéed herbs and sinewy pasta!"

Our Xbox One can see us. Forgiving The Husband for bringing that heat-sensing creepy-box into the house is among the cooler things I've done this month -- right up there with discovering Zatarain's and mustering enough prenatal flexibility to paint my toenails.

Our treks through vast parking lots are prone to video camera surveillance. No longer may we commit purse heists with the security of anonymous banditry -- nor can we ride off into the sunset, because Federal Boulevard only runs south and north.

Gone are the days of Jesse James, when hearsay governed the opinions of the populace -- and the government -- and bred legends.

Gone are the days of Gatsby, when a man had to buy a well-situated house to spy upon and stalk his ex.

Gone are the days of Richard Simmons, when no one could tell by the movements of your heat signature that you aren't good at aerobic dance routines.

Gone are all of the Michael Jackson impressions and rounds of "truth or dare" in which you used to partake before your friends had the ability to put you on YouTube.

I'm neither outlaw nor conspirator, nor (as the reader can tell by my occupation) consumed by wishes for privacy. I am, however, a tad old-fashioned in that I think a good video game involves me staring at Mario, not Mario staring at me. I think a good book doesn't know how quickly (or slowly, as fatigue overcomes me) it is being read. I think the Internet a cruelly precise timeline that has the ability to bite my future self with remnants of my past self -- a person who overrated Nirvana (the band), spread low-fat recipes for flan, and committed other saddening crimes of social interaction.

Following this designation of myself as one who may exhibit hostility toward the camera-laden drones of the future, I confess with hesitation that I have joined the ranks of the very surveillance monitors at which I have heretofore snorted.

In my house, I am the chief of surveillance.

Last month, we moved our "baby" -- a 20-month-old -- into a bunk bed in the room of our 3-year-old.

The two boys are now roommates, coupled into situations involving made-up languages, a bunk-bed ladder, two flashlights, and a room that lacks adults after 8 p.m.

Consumed with the mystery of their nocturnal goings-on, I turned to my video-camera baby monitor. The device has one-way viewing, night vision, and pretty clear audio reception -- just so I'll never miss anyone's charges of mutiny against his brother.

When I first began watching the boys, I felt like I was intruding upon the most exclusive interactions known to any children. Who was I to watch them act like monkeys and needlessly (laughingly) shout the word "octagon" at one another?

But the longer I spied, the more interested I became. The children seemed to work out their disagreements with more ease without me there to defend the supposed underdog. In a shared room, following my nighttime parting, the baby became a less vulnerable playmate and the older boy became a more sensitive one.

I came to find their private domain fascinating, like my own personalized TV show. I watched without shame.

But then: my spying brought me to the realization that the children had interacted favorably because they thought they were unsupervised. They had abandoned all ploys for attention and cries for premature interference from Mommy because they thought they were out of my scope of attention.

The boys thrive on privacy and independence.

In our world, there's no need for one more hovering drone. This chief of surveillance is signing off -- as soon as I get some of these nighttime boyhood conversations onto YouTube.

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