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Welcome to the Nanny Age

Oct 13, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

Everything is watched, and the intrusions keep on growing.

It's a strange symbol for a national flag, but the African nation of Mozambique on its flag displays an AK-47, along with a farming hoe and an open book superimposed on a single yellow star.

The AK-47, the original Soviet assault rifle has become the symbol for resistance and revolutionary movements across the Third World.

The image of a gun as part of your national symbol strikes many as strange, but a look at our own history reveals our own fascination with firepower.

When Richard Gatling, an inventor of mechanized farm equipment, turned his interest to rapid-fire weapons just prior to the American Civil War, he never envisioned the horror he was about to unleash on the planet. Gatling ardently believed that his weapon would be so horrible that it would end warfare forever, a sentiment shared by fellow inventor Alfred Nobel when he patented dynamite a few years later. Both proved to be horribly wrong in their assumptions.

Gatling offered his weapon to the U.S. Army during the Civil War, but pomp and tradition, along with the limited thinking the military was renowned for in those days, kept it off the front lines.

He found a market in an unexpected place, the finance industry. Banks and financial institutions in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia ordered this manually operated machine gun at a higher rate than any military on Earth and then displayed the guns proximately high atop their huge, brick buildings.

It wasn't to ward off foreign invaders; the guns were placed there to let the people know that any assault during one of the many financial panics common to the late 19th century would be dealt with in a hail of automatic weapon fire.

The people got the message, and the pro-corporate governments of the era sat quietly and allowed this institutional intimidation.

Jump ahead a little over a century, and you don't see automatic weapons installed on top of skyscrapers anymore, but you do find the Information Age infringing once again on the rights of citizens and workers.

My wife and I were shopping recently, and we noticed our favorite checker seemed perplexed and not her normal friendly, informative self. I asked her if everything was OK and she just nodded toward a big, digital screen mounted high above the service desk.

"Eye in the sky," she said with a cynical shake of her head.

The corporation had installed a digital monitoring system to "improve" customer satisfaction. What it was actually doing was closely monitoring employee performance to the minute.

Any deviation from what the computer program determined was the appropriate amount of time to spend checking out one customer's groceries could bring a visit from the manager.

The concept isn't limited to retail stores. Trucking firms and delivery services now bear the burden of this additional scrutiny. Industry has come up with a new concept with the implementation of digital monitoring, the idea of "stealing time" from the company.

Theft rightfully results in an automatic dismissal in most businesses, but these corporations have taken it a step higher.

If you spend too much time on one delivery, take too long to travel from one place to the next or, heaven forbid, stop to help someone, the computerized monitor takes note of the time disparity. Reach the threshold of a few minutes and once again you might get dinged by the manager or supervisor. Make it a habit, and you could face worse punishment for for "theft of time."

It's not surprising that many of the people fired for "theft of time" are employees nearing retirement. If a company can find a reason to dismiss an employee before the person has reached the minimum retirement age, employee benefits can be reduced substantially, and the company saves a lot of money.

Many corporations have lost prolonged court battles in this blatant example of age discrimination, but not all, so the trend persists.

In our daily life we can't escape the constant intrusion of digital cameras and recording devices. Every store has one. Most road intersections now contain them as well.

To a person, everyone implementing these devices claims it is for personal safety, public safety, protection against potential litigation or in the interest of clients. While it's portrayed this way, it is rarely utilized in that manner.

The 21st century has become the "Nanny Age," where everything is watched. It is interesting to note that while economic conditions result in longer hours, fewer workers and fewer benefits, there always is enough money to equip every store, vehicle and street corner with incredibly expensive technology.

Benefits are cut, wages remain stagnant, but the surveillance portion of the IT department is always flush with funding.

George Orwell ,in his post-World War II apocalyptic classic "1984" was right. "Big Brother is watching us." Paper or plastic?

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is s retired public school teacher. He farms in rural Riverton.

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