Like all writers I know, I spend time observing, listening, experiencing the world around me, particularly people. Whatever I take in through my senses comes out, in some processed form, in my writing. I have considered this habit the purview of writers, but I was prompted to re-think my habit recently, when I attended a reading at my local bookstore. Before the reading began, a woman showed a video to everyone who would view it. She and her partner had gone out to dinner the previous night. At the next table, a couple had been overtly physical with each other. The woman had video’d their very personal physical exchange on her smart phone. On the one hand, it was a public place and being in a public place, the couple made themselves vulnerable to being captured in video form. On the other hand, the woman never told them she had done this, and I wondered how they would have felt if they had known. Now, they were being laughed at in a place they had probably never heard of, by people they had never met.
The woman held out her phone to me, but I couldn’t watch. I felt too much of a voyeur. Yet, I would have watched the couple had I been in the restaurant. As a citizen, I was appalled by this invasion of privacy, despite the couple’s folly. What if the woman puts it on YouTube? As a writer, however, I began to question my habit of observing and now, two days later, I am still in a quandary. Looking at the natural world is one thing; looking at people is another. Is it right to observe people so intensely? Further, I admit that I observe clandestinely, not wanting people to know I’m watching because a) it’s rude and b) people change behavior when they know they are being watched.
I do know that capturing people’s behavior on video is crossing the line for me, but, apparently, it isn’t for others. I will be more wary in future, partly because it has been drawn to my attention that anyone can video me anytime anyplace and share that, but also because I don’t want to cross the line. I just need to figure out where the