Eyes On: Writing About Surveillance

Often writers both give and get this little gem of advice: “Write what you know.” The sad truth, however, is that so many of us just don’t know enough about the state of automated surveillance to write compelling stories about its future. When I pick up books, speculative fiction or science fiction, with a crime element or that use surveillance technology of one sort or another to track the protagonist I usually feel let down and stuck back in the mid 20th Century.

And that’s not to say that I somehow magically posses a better understanding of these technologies and how they have already become integrated into the fabric of our society. I don’t. My involvement, as a SIGINT analyst for the Army, was more than a decade ago and I am routinely astonished at what can be done today or when I learn how little weakness there exists within surveillance networks. I am down right frightened sometimes to think about what it might be like in the future. And this fear should inform the way I write.

The Atlantic just published this piece about Surveillance over Compton, CA. The companion video is well done as well.

I believe stories that expose cracks in these networks are going to be printed on gold leaf. The combination of truly daunting technological barriers, wielded unscrupulously, has always been an excellent plotting device in the past. Finding the flaws and bootstraps in the system, regardless of motivation, is what made so many spy and political thrillers excellent.


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