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The Ominous Camera: A Class Discussion


The discussion.

Zuboff and Scott

"Christine Boese" (boesec@rpi.edu)
Tue, 30 Jan 96 18:54:32 EST

Hello hello,

I had such a good time in class today I couldn't get enough of it!

Yeah yeah, here she is cluttering your mailboxes again.

I wanted to bring up an issue on ssminnow that Scott Dewitt raised in class
today, and to use it as a beginning of an online discussion of the Zuboff

.oO maybe no one noticed that I cut Scott off in the discussion...

No really, Scott raised some excellent points about business practices and
making money, which I countered with some smart aleck cracks about business
not having to comply with the constitution, as if it were a law unto itself.

In truth, I love a good argument, and I was really glad Scott raised the
points he did. Sometimes I love arguing so much that I forget I am the
teacher, calling on folks, which gives me unfair advantage.

Which raises another point about ssminnow discussions.  Many people have
observed that electronic forums "seem" to be a more democratic medium for
discussions, because pushy people and teachers cannot control and dominate
the discourse.  In other words, if we moved our class discussion of business
email and corporate panoptic control to the online asynchronous medium,
supposedly I wouldn't have the power to call on anyone, or cut anyone off.
Scott could tell me to take a hike.

What do you think?  Scott, I invite you and anyone else to pick up our
discussion thread where we left off in class. It seems to be a rich vein to

ps did anyone notice the camera in the corner of the maclab, monitoring your
every move? be careful where you scratch yourself.
Christine Boese
Rensselaer Polytechnic                  "Some days the bear will eat you.
http://www.rpi.edu/~boesec/index.html    Some days you'll eat the bear."
boesec@rpi.edu                        Joan Armatrading, Walk Under Ladders

The ominous camera.

"Aaron Ondek"ondeka@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 08:26:31 -0500

..... I did notice the camera!  When ever I have a free moment and
no one is looking I throw a weird face at it, to see if armed guards
will bust through the door and escort me away (not a true story).

        On the note of business control over email.... I think that
they do have the legal right to have complete control over their
email system.  CMU reserves their complete rights over their email
system and make it known.  Employees have the right to quit from any
company with this policy.  This seems like a bad practice though.

        It may be legal but is it right?


RE: The ominous camera.

From: "Paul Soucek" soucep@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 21:10:32 -0500

        I agree with Aaron about the RIGHT of the company-- As long as the =
employees know they are being monitored.=20

        To back this up...The whole computer system is owned by the company (or =
school), so they have a right to monitor everything they are used for.=20

        When a person joins any organization, they enter into an agreement over =
the use of the duties, equipment and services. Schools and businesses =
are the typical groupsthat have access to the internet. An individual is =
unlikely to purchase a connection on their own.

        BUT, since schools and businesses own the utilities, it is not only =
their RIGHT, it is also their DUTY to monitor what is transmitted. This =
means there should be some responsibility to prohibit certain kinds of =
media from reaching its users.=20

        In a nutshell: the provider is responsible for what contacts are made =
to and from the connected computers and must control this somehow.

RE: The ominous camera.

From: "Paul Soucek" soucep@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 21:10:32 -0500

        This technology is only where the people allow it. If you don't put a =
computer in your house (or connect to them), computer companies won't =
monitor you; if you don't put a TV in your house, the TV companies won't =

        Everything is a tradeoff, if you want to connect to the world, expect =
them to connect to you and watch! Because, after all, that is what you =
are really doing when you go anywhere through the computer!


RE: The ominous camera.

"Silver" jordas2@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 21:23:27 -0500

About this whole camera thing - while companies may indeed have the right to
monitor the doings of their employees, the employees in turn have a right to
know that they are being watched, whether it be by counting the number of
keystrokes he or she makes or by having a hidden camera installed in the wall.

However, when we start saying that it is a company's duty to keep a watch
over its workers, we start violating that old "freedom of expression" ideal
that is taken for granted today.  Think about what would happen if all
journalists' phone conversations were taped or traced?  Anonymous sources
would be, in a sense, sold out, and so many prize-winning exclusive articles
would never be written.  The most shocking events in this world might remain
cloaked from the public eye.

If a boss wants to read his secretary's electronic mail, he most certainly
has the right to do it.  But, any boss who does this sort of thing needs a
lesson in ethics.  It is like when all of us were growing up - someone's
diary was his or her most precious thing.  And, when an older sibling or
nosy friend came upon it, the owner would be mortified.  In short, some
things are meant to be kept PRIVATE.  Not everything in this world HAS to be
seen by someone else's eyes.

Employers decide who they want to hire and can, from the start, regulate the
actions of these employees.  That is the whole basis for policy manuals.
When I worked at a bank this past summer, I was given an employee handbook
on my first day and told to go home and read the whole thing.  That way, I
knew what was expected of me and what would be considered unprofessional.
If you want to survive in the workplace, you as an individual have to learn
what is appropriate, and as a boss, you must respect and trust your employees.

Sarah Jordan            :       " I believe pitchers
1002 MacDonald          :         should buy catchers
276-4628                        :         lunch."

RE: The ominous camera.

"Paul Soucek" soucep@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 21:30:11 -0500

        The ownership of a television will not bring the world to you. Only =
when you subscribe to a cable company (or satellite etc.) will you get =
the world. This is the only group that could monitor you. A broadcast =
station can only tell what you are watching by external polls. When you =
decide to subscribe to any television service, you get a second type of =
connection, usually direct (with a box). This type of connection allows =
them to monitor the use of THEIR property (the box).=20

        They have a right ot know what the people using their equipment are =
doing (watching or otherwise). This leads to better programming for you =
anyway, although you may see adveritsements that are aimed at you. =
(Aren't they all supposed to be?)


RE: The ominous camera...

"Paul Soucek" soucep@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 21:40:36 -0500

        A diary is a thing to be kept private, I agree. But when was the last =
time you mailed it to someone? Would you trust the delivery service =
(UPS, USPS, FedEx,...)? If you are sending something to someone, it has =
several chances to either get lost, or read along the way.

        The trust that comes to anyone must be earned! An easy way to do this =
is to allow someone access to everything they want, they will soon learn =
that you deserve the respect (or there is nothing interesting) and stop =

        This is analogous to parenting: Parents watch every move made by a two =
year old, most of those by five year olds, less of ten year olds, and =
even less of teenagers. At age 18, the person is assumed to be mature =
enough to know what is right and wrong.=20

        Businesses watch an employee like a hawk at the beginning and less as =
time proceeds. Eventually, enough trust has been established that the =
emloyee needs no "Big Brother."




"Rob" jennir@rpi.edu
Tue, 30 Jan 1996 22:23:16 -0500

Yes there are two cameras in the room.  ITS is totally within there =
rights to tape YOU.  They are protecting themselves.  Do you know how =
many thousands of dollars are in that lab?  I must admit though that I =
do give the cameras a dirty look but that's because I work for ITS and =
therefore I can.  Here is an except of a letter I recieved from my =
supervisor at ITS:
Over the weekend, one of the cpus from Sage 2704 was stolen.=20

It has been brought to my attention that the tapes for the secuirty =
hadn't been changed like they should have been.

Public Safety and the Troy Police department are reviewing the tapes for =
weekend, to see what they might show.
Well I must say she was very angry.  These cameras are necessary to =
ITS's security since how can they trust anyone that enters the room, =
they don't even know you.  Well the same at work, how much do the owners =
of most large firms that have cameras know about their employees.  How =
can they fully trust them?  Really it is a condition that you must come =
to terms with and if you aren't thinking of stealing anything then why =
should you be worried.  Stolen equipment costs us and them.


Re: The ominous camera...

"Christine Boese" boesec@rpi.edu
Wed, 31 Jan 96 00:45:39 EST

OK, I gotta weigh in on this one, exercise polemic...ooooh how I would like
to go "off" like Nikki Giovanni does.

(and I get to, right? cuz I got no special prerogatives on this list. Hey,
somebody, archive this whole thread.)

(gotta turn the sound off on Letterman for this one)

OK, so whole bunches of folks are so conditioned, so BRAINWASHED by
prevailing winds, attitudes, and corporate propaganda, they seem perfectly
willing to allow employers to OWN THEIR LIVES.  Since when?  I feel like I
just woke up and found myself behind the iron curtain in the Stalin era.
Wake up and smell the hummus!

Ahem, well, Nikki Rosa could have done much better.

Sure, fine, the company owns the computer system. You own your vocal cords,
your ideas. Your lungs. Your typing fingers.  Without the stuff inside of
you there is nothing to censor anyway, at least until AI starts developing
some personality.

See, there's gotta be a debate about public spaces. Like Boston Commons.
Places where ideas can be free. The suburbs abolished common spaces, locked
them inside malls, great churches in worship of the god of consumption. Buy,
buy, more, more.  With the development of what Father Ong calls "secondary
orality" or electronic broadcasting mediums, we get a concept of "PUBLIC
AIRWAVES."  A bully pulpit.

What does this mean? (as Martin Luther would say in the catechism)

IMHO, to me this means the medium, insofar as it reaches a "public mind,"
ultimately is publicly owned (I'm making this up as I go along).  Let me
clarify.  In Sumeria anyone could make marks on mud, and mud was free.
Papyrus, well, a little harder to come by. By the time we hit codex books
copied out by monks, there was a major league monopoly on the medium and the
public mind, although I'm sure subversives still roamed the countryside.
History cannot record their existence much tho, you know, like all
marginalized groups, they become invisible without a written record.

So along comes ol' Martin Luther, shortly after my buddy Gutenburg and his
movable type. I love this part of the story. (we share a birthday, Marty and
I)  Marty has a gripe, or 99 of them.  He nails them up on a door someplace
and thinks, well, that's the end of it.  But noooooo.  Printing presses
meant a rebirth of a slightly more public medium, although you still had to
be in the guild class to own a printing press. Somebody prints up Luther's
gripes, sends 'em around the countryside, down to the Pope, and oops, he's
excommunicated. Next thing you know they want to distribute this German
language Bible... and you have a secular revolution and an end of an era.
Power to the people.

So about the time the U.S. was founded, anybody almost could whip out a
pamphlet, disseminate ideas. Slowly, slowly, media outlets got bigger and
more entrenched.  By the time I hit journalism school we entered a watershed
period of deregulation of media outlets (1980s), allowing corporations to
buy up and control all the information for an entire regional area, or in
the case of Rupert Murdoch, the world.  Where are the dissenting ideas?

Some look to the birth of an alternative press. Others look to the Internet.
I will look anywhere. I have nearly given up hope. All we ever get is party
line, fascism, group mind.  There are no places for dissenting ideas to find
an audience.  I keep expecting Gutenburg and Luther to show up and start a
revolution. It ain't coming out of Wired magazine, that is for sure.

Public Access TV?  Wayne's World?  What does free speech mean?  Screw the
first amendment, let's just talk about the value--the ethics-laden value of
owning what is inside your head.  Can it come out?  Should there be

Does the company own me when I am on company time?  Does the company own my

In some places that would be called slavery.  What does it mean when you do
it willingly, for some sort of compensation?  When does that compensation
start to control your actions, so that what you do to get it is not so much
of your free will as it is coercion?

What will you do for a job?  Give up ownership of your output, your ideas,
your urine?  If unemployment was high and food scarce, would you do
something unethical?  Would you kill?

What happens if I refuse to let myself be owned?  I wouldn't be able to get
a whole bunch of jobs, and my career could get stalled out because of it.  I
could live in Alaska, where everybody is crazy independent anyway--or
Vermont. Hunker down in the woods somewheres and think my subversive thoughts.

Many of you would seem to suggest that I should embrace the just
consequences of my even HAVING subversive thoughts that no right thinking
corporation would want to have around their property.  After all, it is in
the company's best interest to control my mind and own my body--it is the
best way to make money.  Can't fault a company for doing that, can we?

Heck, seems to me that it is even more in the company's best interests not
to pay workers at all, simply to enslave them by force, cart the body off
when it gives out. That would certainly be the best economic arrangement.

(geez, and all this time I spend arguing with marxists, look at how much I
sound like one.)

we are the stories we tell. all our words shape us, no matter who owns them.

that is all I have to say about that.
Christine Boese
Rensselaer Polytechnic                  "Some days the bear will eat you.
http://www.rpi.edu/~boesec/index.html    Some days you'll eat the bear."
boesec@rpi.edu                        Joan Armatrading, Walk Under Ladders

Control of our lives

"Scott DeWitt" dewits4@rpi.edu
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 02:59:51 -0500

You're damn straight there are some things we have to consent to in order
to have a job.  We live in a FREE-ENTERPRISE society, and that is one of
the consequences.  If business couldn't control at least SOME of what we
do, how are they ever going to get anything done.  How is a compnay going
to make any money if they just let their employess sit around all day and
have "subversive thoughts".  Gee, that's gonna bring in the dough, huh?

I agree, wholeheartedly, that this can go to far.  But it hasn't yet.  So
yeah, it's something we should think about right now, so that it doesn't go
that far.  But we cannot live in a democratic, capitalistic society without
having some things in our lives controlled.  Hell, you're conditioned and
controlled every day in this institution.  RPI dictates that I stay up
until 3 in the morning just so I can get all my damn work done.  If I just
sat around and said, "Excuse me, I need more free time so that I can think
about some things that are on my mind", I'd flunk out.  This whole society,
and perhaps this was your point, dictates what we do from day 1.  If we
flunk high school, we can't go to college.  If we flunk college, we can't
get a job.  If we don't learn how to add in grade school, we can't get
anywhere.  Society does dictate our lives and control our lives.  It IS the
price we pay for this society.  How do you suggest we otherwise get around
this?  If we have a society where people just sit around all day and think
"subversive thoughts", and I would not use the word subversive either, we
will fail altogether to go anywhere or do anything.  We'll all be a bunch
of lazy-ass couch-potatoes.

I think it's a trade-off.  The ideal situation is somewhere in between.
There has to be enough freedom in society for people to voice their ideas,
but at the same time, we can't give up control over society.  That is
anarchy.  That is chaos.  I don't want to live in chaos.  Maybe you think
it will work, and please share that with me if that's the case.

Subsequently, this trade-off also has to exist in business, which is what
we were originally talking about.  It is certainly good for employees to
have new ideas (subversive thoughts??).  It promotes individuality and
creativity and will make employees feel like part of the company.  And we
don't need their urine to do that.  But we DO need control of their work,
while they're in the workplace.  There should be a time to think and a time
to work.  Businesses have to get stuff done.  Businesses wouldn't be
businesses if they didn't make money.  And this society wouldn't be this
society without business.  There are plenty of alternate societies that
don't have business.  And they work.  But I'm not talking about them.  I
don't know anything about them.  I live in THIS society, and this society
has business, that NECESSARILY dictates controlling employees work WHILE
they are in the workplace.

As for there not being any way to express yourself and your thoughts, I
don't think people like Morton Feldman, John Cage, Charles Ives, George
Crumb, or Andy Warhol would agree with you on that.  I have been a musician
for 12 years of my life.  It is the ONLY way that I express my thoughts to
their fullest extent.  I'm not a great debater, and sometimes my arguments
go unsupported.  I don't know about early Western Civilization and can't
spout out facts about a whole host of things, but I don't need those.  I
have my music.  And it IS a medium to express myself.  The folks I just
mentioned(and that's just a few)made it work.  They expressed themselves,
and influenced a whole new generation of music, art, and dance.

Okay, so not many people know Morty or George, but look at more
contemporary music.  The last time I checked, Alanis Morisette was spouting
"isn't it ironic", Ani Difranco was telling us how she is "not a pretty
girl", Smashing Pumpkins were yelling about how they were "still just a rat
in a cage", and PEOPLE WERE LISTENING.  Their ideas are getting heard.  And
everytime you open a magazine you see pictures and drawings, cartoons and
all sorts of other things.  These are the ways in which people are
expressing themselves and getting heard.  They CAN have subversive
thoughts.  We can talk about how we dislike the government, without fear of
getting excommunicated.  We can talk about how life is so ironic.  We can
talk about how a lot of men and women just seem to look for sex and looks
and toss aside personality.  We CAN talk about anything we want.  That
seems fairly uncontrolled to me.


RE: The ominous camera.

"Allan V. Kotmel Jr." kotmea@rpi.edu
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 09:48:34 -0500

OK.  Let's think about the ramifications of my boss watching everything I do
at work:

(Note:  I think this might become a long rant, so feel free to skim and
just look at the main points.)

* They have to hire at least one extra person, and probably more if they want
  to watch what everyone is doing.  That costs the company money.

* They make me nervous at work because I need to call my wife to tell her I
  will be home late because I am working on a project, but I'm afraid I'll
  be reprimanded for making a 'personal' call (or sending a personal email!)

* The company is no longer considered a "common carrier" on the Internet; so
  let's say I'm posting to newsgroups to get some information for a project
  that I'm working on, and I decide I want to post something to one of the
  alt.sex.* newsgroups with the phone number of a 15-year-old saying "For a
  good time, call...", that message is not only my responsibility, but now the
  company can be held libel for it as well.

* OK, now let's say the company is going to measure my productivity by
  keystroke.  Assuming that I am not just a data entry person, how the hell
  are keystrokes per minute going to tell them anything about the work I'm
  doing?  I was at a programming job this summer, and I spent a lot of time
  looking things up in books, browsing newgroups and posting messages to
  try and get some information, and even just sitting in front of the
  computer pondering what the best algorithm to use for something was.  How
  do you measure my thought process in keystrokes per minute?

* And let's not forget the most important ramification, how are you going to
  get employees to trust in your company if you can't trust them.  You'll
  NEVER get the best people if you spend all the time looking over their
  shoulder, because they won't put up with it.  They can easily get 100 other
  jobs, and they will jump at the first headhunter that calls.

It seems to me that watching employees that closely is a waste of time and
money for the employer.  They don't get any more productivity out of it, and
they might have to have salaries that are a little higher than the norm so
they don't constantly lose workers.  What's the point?

And did anyone notice that there are TWO cameras in the Mac lab?

And did anyone notice that Chris was walking around in class yesterday
looking over our shoulders?  Hmmm.  :)

Rant-mode off,

Allan Kotmel            kotmea@rpi.edu          http://www.rpi.edu/~kotmea
"Baseball is like a church.  Many attend, few understand."   - Wes Westrum
"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is
 comprehensible."     - Albert Einstein

RE: The ominous camera.

"Scott DeWitt" dewits4@rpi.edu
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 13:30:11 -0500

The point is you've got your points wrong in my opinion.

We're not, or at least I'm not, talking about whether or not it would
actually be good for business to "watch over their employees' shoulders".
Whether this would be productive or not, that's not really the point.  It's
do they actually have a right to if they THINK it would be good for
business.  Like I said, whether or not it actually WOULD be good for
business is another story.  In fact, IMHO, it wouldn't be.  But they DO
have the right to monitor their employees in the workplace.  If they feel
they production has dropped and the only way to bring up production is to
monitor their employees, sobeit.  Course they could always just give up
control of their employees at that point and let them spout out ideas on
how to increase production until they have to file for bankruptcy.  But, as
Wolfgang said in Amadeus, "that doesn't really work, does it?"


Re: The ominous camera...

"Nicole Astrid Smith" smithn2@rpi.edu
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 13:45:56 -0500

        I don't think that someone's boss has the right to look at your
email.  That is an invasion of privacy.  That is almost like saying that the
worker is guilty of something and shouldn't be trusted to write or receive
letters.                Someone in class said that his boss or company would
open his mail.  I don't think that I could work there.  I guess I could
understand the military doing that if we were at war but not in a work
environment.  That is ridiculous.

Re: The ominous camera...

"Nicole Astrid Smith" smithn2@rpi.edu
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 13:59:52 -0500

        As a little comment about increased freedom and trust from one's
parents as you get older.  I will have to disagree because yes, it is assumed
that you will receive more trust and freedom but, I definitely did not get
that from my strict parents.  Being from Brooklyn and having Strict West
Indian parents made my life Hell.  I think that I actually started to have
less freedom and trust as I got older even thought I never went out.  My
parents blamed their "lack of trust" on the NYC Crime wave (which
incidentally is finally out of the top ten list of worst crime cities).
        There is no way that I will treat my boss like my parent!  Why would
I want my boss to see a letter to my boyfriend and feel good about letting
him/her read it.  No Way!  I don't see a need to be monitored.  That is like
being in prison.  In prison, I could understand being monitored because the
person committed a crime and may be plotting to break out.
        Think about this....What if your boss saw something that he MISTOOK
for a sabotage letter to ...your mother, who happens to be good at takeovers.
 Now your boss might think that you are trading secrets under the cover of
the corporation's luncheon.  If he reads more into your letter about John's
need for more money, he may think that John wants to help you and your mom
takeover the company.  It may sound far-fetched but, I'm trying to make you
        Noone is in your mind when you are writing so, if you aren't clear,
you may cause problems instead of helping your case.
                        That's all for now,

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