Living in the age of creepiness

A long time ago I used to collect out of state license plates.

Roaming the city with my camera — this was before even flip phones — I’d point and shoot at license plates on automobiles in parking lots and streets throughout the county. Imagining the stories behind the road trip was a cheap form of entertainment and wonder.
Because San Diego is a relative tourist destination, the “season” lasted during the summer, from Memorial Day weekend in May through September’s Labor Day.

I’d marvel at the ones from Alaska, wondering how long it took them to arrive from the land of grizzly bears and glaciers to Southern California, home of the surf and turf burrito. Arizona plates seemed to outnumber California ones at the beaches and the one and only Hawaii plate I caught left me dumbstruck. How did that get here?

It might have been the driver from Colorado (or was it Nebraska?) who one day told me what I was doing was weird after I explained that I didn’t like to do anything with the pictures, just kept track of how many imagined tourists I spotted during the summer.

Some people collected pictures of birds or butterflies, that summer I collected license plates.

Her words told me it was weird but it was her tone that suggested she meant creepy.

I stopped photographing plates not long after, suddenly aware that my innocent pastime might, in fact, be creeping people out.

That assumption isn’t an unreasonable one. It is odd when you see someone you don’t know photographing you or your belongings. Any reasonable person could wonder and ask:

What are they going to do with that image? It’s a fair question. And, depending on who has the image, the answer could be unsettling. Is this a potential stalker? A thief? Someone out to make a few bucks from using my likeness?

When the technology that allowed law enforcement agencies to photograph motorists and pedestrians from red light cameras and lampposts emerged I cringed (and still do). Police and electeds will tell you that having video cameras posted is an effective crime deterrent but they also send the message that everyone is a potential criminal.

It’s an odd presumption to bear when you’re intent on just minding your business.

Years later we have police cars that can photograph license plates as they make their way along city streets, cameras that are still posted on lampposts and outside buildings and now even in doorbells with high definition surveillance.

We have grown accustomed to cameras being everywhere, our actions recorded and our likenesses stored somewhere by some faceless entity with who- knows-what intentions.

We have grown accustomed to being watched. It’s sort of weird. Really creepy.