Big Birds are Watching You

In the digital age, the fear and normalization of being watched constantly have increased more than ever. The meme about FBI agent watching you through your front camera is a great example of our generation’s digital anxieties. Reflecting on my childhood, or to “Barbie as Swan Lake,” which I watched over the weekend with nostalgia, I realized that our anxiety of being watched has manifested in media since we were very young. In these iconic movies of childhood, every single time the protagonists have come up with a great plan or discovered a big secret, the scene following it would be the camera shifting out of focus into the background, in which little black birds fly away to report to their evil overlord. Birds have always been symbols of surveillance. Recently, journalists have reported that China has launched “spy birds” to boost government surveillance. I know that Americans love to sh*t on China for being a surveillance state; however, who is to say that other governments, or institutions, have not sent out flocks of robotic birds to watch over its population and that journalists are just too afraid to say so?

As a skeptic, I argue that it is entirely plausible that these “spy birds” are present on the seemingly peaceful campus of Swarthmore College.

It was a bright, sunny day, my friends and I were lounging under the shade of Parrish Beach. As the wind ruffled our hair with its gentle breeze, we laid on our white beach towels, staring up at the sky, where the birds were chirping noisily as usual.  

Suddenly, my friend Jordan Reyes ’19 said with nervousness, “These birds are fake.”

It was in that moment my third eye opened.

The yellow beak of every single little or big bird looked plastic to me. Their movements seemed patterned and robotic (the birds kept on landing next to us, but flying away the second we made eye contact). I peered into the black eyes of the bird in front of me, and there was nothing in them.

I wondered if I had ever seen a bird eat worms or have sex — the answer is no. Maya Henry ’20 exclaimed, “You know, the birds here don’t sh*t!” They were right: if the birds here shat, the clean stone pavement would be filled with white splatters of poop.

Even more suspiciously, Quincy Ponvert ’22 has observed that “the birds here on campus make eye contact with me more than normal birds.” Of course, because they are watching us. If that is true, who is watching us through them? Is it the government or is it the Sw*rthmore adm*nistration?

Just like Michel Foucault said, we live in a society (OK maybe not that part) — where power is delocalized through the apparatus of the panopticon, in order to “induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” To say that in simpler words, you can never trust your friends, not even Jim Bock ’90.

As the people™, the least of our joys is ~tweeting~ something niche on a blue ~bird~ app with interesting use of emojis and pointless redactions. Hidden within our carefully counted asterisks is the fear of our thoughts being read by those outside our community. We wake up in sweat every single night with the aftertaste of a nightmare, in which an adm*n holds up a screenshot of what we have secretly schemed against the school in codes that only we can understand. We might ask how they deciphered those blobs of asterisks. Little did we know, the birds have always been watching.

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