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    Tuesday, December 06, 2022

    Big Brother has turned into Everybody and Their Brother

    George Orwell called him "Big Brother," a fictional character and symbol of how authority maintains constant surveillance over the citizenry, in the dystopian — but prescient — novel, "1984."

    A modern day sequel might very well be titled "Everybody and Their Brother," given the prevalence of cell phones and how virtually everyone in America leaves home now with some kind of recording device.

    Our corner of the world has its own example of the cautionary tale that's related to watching what we say because we never know who's watching. Or recording.

    Peter Reichard abruptly retired recently as police chief in New London after a secretly recorded conversation unearthed disparaging comments about the city and his distaste for minority hiring practices.

    Nationally, ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols suggested that network colleague Maria Taylor got the job as host of "NBA Countdown" because she is Black, during a leaked recording of a private conversation last July. Nichols wasn't aware her video camera was on and was recording the call to an ESPN server. It became fodder for a story in the New York Times a year later, suggesting there is no timetable for the next "gotcha" moment.

    Some choose to view such stories through the constricted lens of legality. Generally speaking, they believe that since it's not legal to record someone without his or her knowledge — and then use the information — the subject's words aren't as significant as the illegal act of recording them.

    I beg to differ.

    Most, if not all, such laws were written and enacted in a time less technologically savvy. Translation: The authors couldn't possibly fathom a society that's become a distant cousin to Orwell's satirical Oceania. Instead of merely Big Brother watching, everybody's watching. And waiting. Hence, how can we take such laws seriously in an age when everybody — yes, quite literally everybody — can shoot video and snap photos with the everyday device known as the cell phone? It's just not practical anymore to use antiquated codes and precepts in this period of universal automation.

    The narrow lens of legality doesn't scratch this issue where it itches. There is a better answer and a better way: Watch what we say. Remain cognizant of surroundings: What am I saying and to whom am I saying it? Assume we are being recorded. Perhaps that reeks of paranoia to some. But then, Woody Allen may not have been wrong when he said, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

    I believe in standing up for one's principles. But not at the expense of your employment status. Or hurting others. I find it a rather pronounced cop out that some are quick to ignore the words or at least benignly neglect their impact, in favor of a more peripheral focus: How DARE you record me?

    How about: Why say it in the first place?

    But then, personal responsibility and owning one's words, even in times of peril, began swirling the bowl some time ago.

    As is always the case, I'm only responsible for myself. In the spirit of practicing what one preaches: Recent events have made me more cautious. And it's not easy. I tend to pontificate in public — my bluster is always free but never solicited — and I'd call myself fortunate that I've suffered very few "gotcha" moments, especially with my penchant to get a cheap laugh at all costs.

    It's just not worth it anymore. Watching your words ought to be its own reward. Now it comes with the benefit of covering your own ascot. Because you never know who's recording.

    There was even a study done at Emory University about 10 years ago where subjects were asked to wear tape recorders for days at a time and record their conversations. The study found the subjects to be more empathetic, spent more time listening to other people, laughed more and used the word "I" less. It suggests that we might find a better path if we watch what we say.

    So let's not shoot the messenger. Or in this case, the recorder. We all have recording devices now. "Gotcha" moments sell. So be careful what you say. Know your audience. Be kind. Your reputation is sacrosanct.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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