I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

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Whenever I watch one of those Marvel SHIELD movies with the flying command centers and the jive talking robots I always cringe. But not in the places you’d think.

Anytime Samuel L Jackson talks to the computer, or somebody monkeys with some touchy-glass-holographic-interface-thing, I just think what a bitch that must be when it freezes up. You gotta turn it off and then wait a few seconds and then turn it back on again. Meanwhile Hydra’s gone and… the dark elves are…or, um aliens, I forget who’s gonna destroy the world this time. Or you say “shields!” but the newest upgrade has a bug in it and thinks you said “Biel!” and so does a search on Jessica Biel. On like, Bing, because who’s got time to reset the factory default?

And that’s just how it will break, that’s not even getting into Mr. SHIELD computer presenting Samuel L Jackson with different eyepatch manufacturer options based on his previous orders.

All this “smart,” cloud-based tech, all this business of your phone talking to your car or your fridge or your pants, it all just peppers me with angst, reduces me to a pimento loaf of misery. I’m not overly given to paranoia, but I shudder at the thought of all the eyes and algorithms keeping tabs on me and my browsering.

Of course, this whole fear of constant observation is a little odd considering I’m a parent. You want constant observation? Live with a baby.

The first time we sat little Man down at the table, he picked up his little spoon in his little paw, he scooped up some mashed avocado and popped it into his mouth. No one taught him that. No one explained it to him. They are always watching, cataloguing, filing away those things you do unconsciously so they can try it out later, when they have full control of their fingers.

If you’re lucky, if you’ve done the hard work on the ground, your kid might listen to you, might do what you say. But whether they listen to you or not, I absolutely guarantee that they will do what they see you do.

I see it in myself, a mixed-trait smoothie of both parents. If you can’t see it in yourself then you haven’t looked.

It becomes quite a rabbit hole, entirely apart from the nature vs. nurture discussion. Just the question of how far back, exactly, does my nose-picking tendency go? How many of my grandfathers before me didn’t answer questions if they were thinking about something? Is there some county in West Ireland where it first occurred to somebody to martyr themselves by not letting anyone else do any dishes?

But so listen, though. Reality is reality, and whatever it might do to your great-great-granddaughter’s ability to negotiate the sale of her start-up, the Little Man’s gotta have pants on if he’s going to get on the bus, on way or another. We can’t become paralyzed by the generational ramifications of every dumb tic we have. At the same time, our choices, our words, our actions all have effects, sometimes far reaching. Abuse begets abuse, self and otherwise.

My son is watching me when we’re out in the world. How I, as a man, treat women will influence how he, as a man, treats women as he grows older. If he has a son, then how I act towards women here, now, will affect how women are treated 50 years from now.

This kind of responsibility can be overwhelming, but then with great responsibility comes great power. All the dickish behavior I see in the world, all manner of pettiness and stupidity, it’s all within my power to counteract. If I show my son that I’m not a victim of my environment, if I teach him to act, not react, not to make excuses and not to give anyone else any either. If I can do this, then maybe my grandchildren can look back at my time with the uncomprehending disgust with which my generation views Jim Crow America.

And so, now that it’s almost 2am, and Little Man’s asleep. I’ll just watch a quick episode of Jersey Shore and then delete my browser history. I have to be the man I want him to be.

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