This review is about “Age of Consent– A Personal History of the UK 2005-2026”, by Nick Funnell. The book is availible from Amazon for £2.63 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Age-of-Consent-ebook/dp/B007JJ3HE6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336374076&sr=1-1).
Welcome to the UK in the year 2026, a society in which privacy has effectively all but disappeared not through the abuse of state power, but as a consequence of citizens monitoring their fellow countrymen. Those who are aledged to have committed misdemeanours are subject to the Social Justice Centres who can impose penalties and much of the populace undergoes “social counselling” by “social counsellors”. The narrator, Jason Nunn is one such social counsellor. Nun is sent to the Glenmiur Reform Trust for having mistreated a client. During this period of rehabilitation he completes “Age of Consent” which details how the effective abolition of privacy came to pass.
The beginnings of the Social Monitoring Movement are traced back to Steve, a pop star who’s sister, Emma is raped and murdered. Steve comes to the conclusion that the only way to avoid future tragic incidents of this nature is for society to wholeheartedly embrace social monitoring. Everyone should monitor their fellow citizens and cameras should proliferate so no “dark corners” are left for people to hide in. Steve’s supporters become known as Consenters in that they have freely consented to be monitored.
Steve lives out his ideal by having cameras and microphones installed in his parent’s home which broadcast constant footage of family life including Steve’s sexual exploits with his girlfriend and fellow believer, Samantha Kale. However while Steve’s mother, Vickey becomes a fervent supporter of her son’s campaign his father, Ollie hates the monitoring and retreats to the unmonitored parts of the house. The strain also takes it’s toll on Samantha who ends the relationship (not surprisingly)!
The Social Monitoring Movement is helped along it’s way by cutbacks and the government’s retreat from the social arena. All but the most serious crimes begin to be dealt with by the Social Justice Centres rather than the courts. SJC proceedings are informal. The accused individual has no right to a lawyer or to know who his accuser is. Much of the evidence in SJC hearings is based on photographs sent in by members of the public. Nunn points to a key milestone in the growth of Social Monitoring when he refers to the case of Graham, a young man who is photographed by a concerned member of the public swerving erratically across the motorway while showing his bottom to his fellow road users. The footage is sent to the police who despite several reminders fail to respond. In desperation the incensed member of the public emails the footage to his local Social Justice Centre who quickly apprehend Graham.
Graham is not a sympathetic individual, however one can not help having sympathy for his plight, being confronted by a SJC panel, with no legal representation and without the ability to see his accuser.
The successful prosecution (if that is the correct term given the unorthordox nature of proceedings) leads to an enhanced status for the SJCs. Matters progress apace and CCTV footage is, by and large removed from the control of the monitoring companies and is made publicly availible on the various “channels” which cater to the desire of the public for titilation (my words not those of the author or of Nunn).
Schools and workplaces soon follow down the road of Public Monitoring. Nunn’s argument is that the public have a right to know how hard (or otherwise) their fellow citizens are working while he argues that the universal monitoring of children in school prevents bullying and enforces discipline.
Funnell’s book does not rank among the great distopian novels such as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Huxley’s Brave New World, it does, however make the reader pause for thought and wonder whether the world portrayed in AGE of Consent could come to pass. Where does concern to prevent crime by reporting suspicious activity end and the surveillance society begin? When do CCTV cameras cease to be a necessary security/crime prevention measure and morph into “big brother is watching you”? Perhaps the most fundemental issue which we must face is that of trust. If we can not, on the whole trust our fellow citizens to, by and large behave decently then all the surveillance in the world won’t prevent social collapse.
Funnell’s book is not a great work of literature, however it is, for the price worth a read.
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