Sunday, 8 April 2012


When the news of this new deal hit the newspapers, I must admit I was pretty surprised. It has not been a banner year for driving a bus in Ottawa.We had weekly barrages of bad publicity, the morale at the garage was horrible, and we all knew that the scheduling issues were actually getting worse with every booking. You haven't lived until you've been forced to work three shifts over twelve hours, one shift finishing in the east, the second shift beginning in the west, and the whole shebang ending twelve hours later 20 kms from where you parked your car. Throw in the fact that it only pays you seven hours and thirty minutes, and you're thinking about a career change. The deal is good news in a bad year. After talking with hundreds of my co-workers, I'm convinced the deal will pass... handily.

But what about this past year? Can we discuss this, Ottawa?

In George Orwell's classic novel 1984, Winston Smith spends an eternity trying to hide from the oppressive and deceitful government of Oceania. The governing system is a brutal autocracy. Each and every move made by each and every citizen is meticulously monitored by the system, which the protagonist Smith aptly calls "Big Brother". If you haven't read the book (and you should, it's pretty awesome), you likely still understand the concept of Big Brother. It has become part of the lexicon of modern society to describe oppressive and overbearing measures taken by our government, or our employers.

Great Britain has often been described as a new Big Brother state, as cameras have been installed everywhere. There is always someone watching you, through a camera in a control room, evaluating you, evaluating your actions. You are not likely to get away with a public crime in England. Big Brother watches every street.

Here in North America, it's a little different.

There are no huge banks of government agency cameras trained on your every move. You are not likely to find your biometrics in a database somewhere with a small asterisk beside that date that you had to take a whiz and did it behind the dumpster at the grocery store. Our police forces do not have access to hours of video surveillance cameras to find you. You might find that on YouTube though.

Here's a perfect example. "Phexid", (short for "Places He Explores In Dreams") sent this video to CTV News, and they put it up on their website. A bus driver stopped his bus, went into a store for coffee with passengers on his bus, came back, and that is news. It followed a bunch of other OC Transpo related videos documenting all sorts of things that didn't make the news, and a few things that made the news for good reason.

I may be a little sensitive to YouTube videos as an OC driver, but we could spend the entire day watching people who have no idea they're on camera being humiliated on YouTube. We can't seem to get enough of this stuff. We are addicted to our arrogance. We crave the publicity. We want the +1's.

We are not under the oppressive eyes Big Brother here in North America, we are training the cameras on ourselves and ratting on each other for personal schadenfreude. We capture each other on cellphone cameras and desperately hope the trending topics pick up our moment in time and run across our society like wildfire.

Unlike 1984's oppressive society, Big brother in North America is more like a whiny little brother, pulling at the pantleg of popularity.

And what's worse, in 2012, Big Brother is opt-in.

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