Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Fortress America

Posted by hyperpat on September 18, 2008

Over the last couple of days, we have managed to accidentally trip our home security alarm three times. While this is no disaster (and the offending family culprit has had a couple of lessons in just how to operate this thing), it got me to thinking about why we need to have this thing in the first place.

Back when I was a child, we lived in a couple of different houses in England, both of which most people would consider pretty high-end houses, large enough to require gardeners and maids. Did we have security alarms on these houses? Did we even lock the doors at night? Nope. And the same was true in our house in Australia, and later still our houses in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Illinois. Did we ever get burglarized? Nope. But thirty some-odd years later, when we first moved into our newly purchased home in San Jose, we got hit in the first week! And this house was locked up tight. And although we’ve now moved to a new house in a very nice neighborhood, we feel it’s necessary to make sure every door is locked, every window has a locking bar, and we had this lovely security system installed. Nor do we normally go out for a nice stroll around the neighborhood at night. What has changed in the course of the last forty years to make this necessary? Has crime really become so rampant and all-pervasive that we have to turn our homes into fortresses?

According to the latest statistics, property crimes such as burglary aren’t any more common today than back in the fifties. But what has changed is our awareness of it. The nightly news almost always reports some robbery somewhere in the area, and kidnappings and muggings are also pretty prominent. Thanks to great advances in technology, all this information about the nasty underside of city living comes into our living room nightly in living color, often with phone camera shots of the acts in progress. And of course the news media play these incidents for all they’re worth, because that’s what sells newspapers and drives viewership numbers. We’re being trained just like Pavlov’s dogs to expect crime to occur. And this induced fear extends to other areas: few parents today will even let their children go out trick-or-treating without being right behind them, and many have started to track their children via mobile phone and/or RFID tag chips all day, every day.

Now as my own experience indicates, crime does happen. But when I really think about it, the incidence rate (once in 60 years) doesn’t really justify the fear and all the precautions (and the precautions themselves don’t necessarily stop the crime from happening). The scenario that Heinlein painted in I Will Fear No Evil of lawlessness so out of hand that you needed to hire security guards and drive around in the equivalent of an armored tank has not happened (yet) in this land of the free. And I sincerely hope it never will. But I do wish the news media would tone down the crime reporting a bit, and offer us more stories about people doing nice and helpful things for their community.

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