CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

May 13, 2009

Eavesdropping—the good and the bad of it


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

EAVESDROPPING—THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF IT

       I entered an office today to see if they had any news story updates. While waiting for the director, I heard an employee on the phone: THAT’S NOT MY JOB! Hmmm, I thought, good prompt for the writers group. It wasn’t totally eavesdropping—the office was small and the employee was speaking in a loud voice.

     However, writers are instructed to eavesdrop to learn how people converse and possibly create story ideas. Eavesdropping has served another purpose for me. While enjoying coffee in a local restaurant, I overheard a family discussing their son’s automobile accident. I turned and asked them about it, and all were pleased at the resultant newspaper story. Another conversation I overheard concerned a big game hunter who had just completed a grand slam (no, it’s not the popular breakfast at Denny’s restaurant). He had previously successfully hunted a black bear, grizzly bear, and a brown bear, and now had a polar bear. Again, a pleasing story resulted.

      Then I opened up the Internet upon my return home, the following headline: Cone of silence in the office: Invention aims to make eavesdropping in the office a thing of the past. It appears that a common problem in open-plan offices is that “the sound of conversations…carry across the room, making your every phone call into fodder for other people’s gossip sessions.” Ahh, heaven for a writer. But not so for office workers.

     Joe Paradiso and Yasuhiro Ono, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just patented a system for a roving cone of silence, which allows you to walk around your office building without anyone ever eavesdropping on you. Sound dampening sensors, comprised of an infra-red motion detector, a speaker and a microphone, are scattered around the office walls. Employees can activate their personal mute button from their computer, which makes the sensor it lock onto you. When anyone gets close enough to the employee to eavesdrop, the sensor identifies that person and hits them with a murmur of white noise, preventing them from hearing you.

     Although other systems exist to prevent eavesdropping, Paradiso and Ono invented the only system with the potential to silence anyone in the office using a single system, which travels with them while they wander around the office.

     The system has downsides. One is that it requires a lot of infrastructure. 

     Another is “the creepiness of having your moves watched by a computer that tags you as a nosey eavesdropper.”

     However, we are living in an era when George Orwell’s predictions are coming to life, desensitizing us to “being watched.” Shoplifters and criminals have set up reasons for cameras to follow your every move—while shopping, in schools, etc. It’s great to have a Webcam in Ligonier, Pennsylvania—where citizens can zone in on pictures of the town’s center, the Diamond, twenty-four times a day. If there is a community activity scheduled, my husband, Monte, checks the Webcam to determine if the weather is raining there (like it is where we live, four miles away) and what the attendance is at the event. However, it also removes the privacy of the citizen’s activities.

     The other day, I followed through on plans to swim in the pool at the YWCA and visit the library. However, I neglected to bring a comb with me. I was head-high in a bad-hair day, making it difficult enough to visit the library. Did I really want people globally to see me that way? Would you?

     Certainly the office situation is a unique situation, different than the Webcam, in that it is activated by the individual whom the computer will track. It offers the employee a choice—privacy from being overheard, or privacy in their movements. The Webcam offers no choice, except avoidance—thus, forfeiting the visit to the library.

     It’s an interesting world we live in today. While privacy protections are being put in place by some systems, other systems remove that very privacy.

     As for me, I will continue eavesdropping. After all, I am always seeking the interesting, the human, story. And eavesdropping is a good technique. 

     And it stimulates my curiosity. Just was it that WAS NOT MY JOB? Hmm, nice story beginning or writer’s prompt. What can I do with it?

SOURCE: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/cliff-kuang/design-innovation/inventors-propose-super-creepy-mute-button-real-world?partner=yahoobuzz

ADDITIONAL READING:

BAD WRITING CONTESTS

BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS & WRITER’S EVENTS: January 9, 2009

DAVID PAGE: Notes from St. David’s Writer’s Conference

DEVELOPING CHARACTERS IN NOVEL WRITING

DOES EXAGGERATING THE TRUTH CREATE GOOD STORIES?

Dr. Uwe Stender Presentation on Literary Agents

Found: Flash Drive. What should I do?

HOW THE BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE WAS CREATED

SITE LINKS:

www.beanerywriters.wordpress.com/

www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com

www.barbarapurbaugh.com

www.pennwriters.com

www.ellenspain.com

www.westmorelandphotographers.ning.com

www.ligonierliving.blogspot.com

http://www.methodists-care.org/

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2 Comments »

  1. eavesdropping—defined by Nolo’s Plain-Engliah law dictionary:
    Listening to conversations or observing conduct that is meant to be private. The term comes from the common law offense of listening to private conversations by crouching under the windows or eaves of a house. Generally, the term is used when the activity is not legally authorized by a search warrant or court order. (Compare: surveillance)

    Is overhearing loud conversations or making efforts to listen to neighboring conversations legally eavesdropping? Apparently not—apparently persons recommending that writers “eavesdrop” are using the wrong term. So what is the “right” term?

    And I had wondered how the name “eavesdropping” originated! Carolyn

    Comment by Carolyn C. Holland — September 1, 2009 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  2. “YOU CAN QUOTE ME”
    “You’d have a conversation with one of the writers over a beer…Next thing you knew, some of what you said was in a script.” (Peter Horton on thirtysomething)

    Comment by Carolyn C. Holland — September 1, 2009 @ 10:54 am | Reply


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