The Observed Self

by Peter Gent

My MacBook stares at me, one eye open, but seemingly not awake. Once it did awake, unexpected, and its green eye burned as it judged me. Panicked, I jumped up, trying to hide from its gaze, unsure if I was fully clothed. I realised a moment later that it was just FaceTime that had wanted to see me, accidentally opened as it was, unconnected. None but my technological friend, or perhaps brother, as I sometimes think of my beloved companion in essays and internet surfing, had seen me in my moment of disconcert.

These days all my technological gadgets observe me. My iPhone tells me how many steps I have taken, and my fitness apps send me cheery messages to let me know I’ve done a good job on the days I walk far enough to meet their approval. The days they are silent are painful. I know I am loved, and my self-worth is not dependent on technological affirmation, but deep in my heart I feel I have let myself and my apps down.

“My heart wonders, ‘Can’t I have a moment of privacy?’”

My Fitbit too observes me. It’s meant to kindly remind me of how far I have walked, my current heart rate, and my caloric burn for the day. But my heart wonders, ‘Can’t I have a moment of privacy?’ Sadly the only time I can do that is in the shower where there is no technological watchdog watching relentlessly, monitoring its every beat. When I eat too much or don’t get enough exercise, my Fitbit informs me, judging me. It is not harsh, or even unkind, but it does tell me my resting heart rate has increased. Its cold technological apathy to this fact only makes me feel worse about my failure.

I am observed by Facebook, by a network of CCTV cameras, by the porters. I don’t mind the porters. But I do mind when my mother hears about me from her friends. I block them sometimes, or at least set my privacy settings so they can’t see what I’ve done. I wonder if they know.

Does God judge me? I wonder that too. I think he either does not always observe or he does not often judge. I cannot fathom that he always observes and always judges. My MacBook and I would be sad.


The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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