Front Porch Paranoia

Two Christmases ago, we received a Ring doorbell as a gift. If you’re unaware of Ring doorbells, they are video doorbells to be used at the front door of your home. They serve as a sort of security camera for your front porch.

We asked for the Ring doorbell because our front door has no windows and installing a glass door would have cost hundreds of dollars. So a Ring doorbell provides us the ability to see who is at our front door without having to open it.

We didn’t ask for the Ring because we’re afraid of evildoers. We’ve never had any packages stolen. We don’t usually have shady suspects roaming our streets. There are no children ding-dong-ditching us like my friends and I were prone to do when we were kids. We just wanted the convenience of a view out our front door without the high cost of installing a glass door.

Who’s Watching Your Porch?

This might sound a bit weird from someone who works in social media, but I’m a little bit paranoid when it comes to technology. However, working in social media is precisely why, I am paranoid when it comes to technology. I interact with that stuff all day, every day. I’ve seen enough to stay away from a lot of it.

All location services are turned off on all my devices.

When our daughter is born in April, you won’t see any pictures of her on the internet, much to the chagrin of our loved ones.

We don’t have a smart home.

We have no Alexa.

Siri isn’t around.

I’m simply not willing to trade my private conversations for the ability to order paper towels with the sound of my voice.

We have the Ring. We have a smart thermostat. But it all stops there.

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article by John Herrman called, “Who’s Watching Your Front Porch?” It’s a great article about how Ring doorbells and other such devices have exploded in popularity the last couple of years.

He writes:

The growth of easy-to-install home-surveillance equipment, and in particular doorbell cameras, has changed American life in ways obvious and subtle. Marketed in part as a solution to package theft, which has grown alongside e-commerce, especially from Amazon, Ring has found an ally in law enforcement.

More than 500 police departments have partnered with the company, gaining access to a service called Neighbors Portal, which allows users to “ask Ring to request video footage from device owners who are in the area of an active investigation,” according to the company. (This footage is often shared by law enforcement with media organizations for broadcast segments.) Some police departments assist in marketing Ring devices to local citizens, in some cases offering government-subsidized discounts, according to documents obtained by Vice.

We have loved our Ring doorbell, but like the data from a voice-activated device, I am concerned about what happens to the raw footage and data streamed from my front porch.

I would never give law enforcement access to it unless I knew a crime was committed on my front porch, and I certainly don’t want some random person monitoring who comes in and out of my house on any given day.

To be honest, and this is all a bit off the path of the rest of this post, there is a lot that concerns me about Ring doorbells, data privacy, surveillance cinema, and other issues.

I am concerned about the data and privacy issues regarding video doorbells. But even more than that, I am concerned about the sociological issues that arise out of constant front porch surveillance.

Beyond the eery issues around the data captured by these devices is the social media platform that accompanies Ring devices.

The app is called Neighbors, and it’s baked into every Ring app.

It’s a Scary Day in the Neighborhood

Herrman explains Neighbors:

Ring encourages users to join Neighbors and share videos with locals, and provides fodder for other neighborhood social networks, such as Nextdoor, where conversations already skew paranoid. The company also selects videos from its users to be shared on Ring TV, a video portal run by the company, under categories such as “Crime Prevention,” “Suspicious Activity” and “Family & Friends.” The videos are, essentially, free ads: The terrifying ones might convince viewers to buy cameras of their own; funny or sweet ones, at a minimum, condition viewers to understand front-door surveillance as normal, or even fun.

In short, Neighbors is a hyper-local social media platform built around Ring footage and related conversations.

I have worked in social media for almost 10 years, and I have never seen anything like the Neighbors app, well, except Nextdoor. Both apps are filled with paranoid people who seem to be waiting for something suspicious to happen.

We’re more afraid of our neighbors than we have ever been.

The internet and social media have opened our eyes to the evil of the world, and we’re afraid it may be lurking across the street.

Greater Fear Despite Less Crime

Not everyone who has a Ring doorbell is afraid. We didn’t ask for one because we were afraid. But it makes sense that people who have video doorbells may be a bit more suspicious than those who don’t.

Ring doorbells are just one modern example of our increasing fear of the other.

We are more afraid than we have ever been.

Blame it on 9/11. Blame it on the internet. Blame it on whatever you want. But Americans have never been safer, and yet we have never been more afraid.

According to the FBI and Pew, violent crime decreased by over 50% in the last couple of decades:

Yet we are more afraid than we have ever been.

Why?

I think it’s the internet and social media. I think the internet and social media have exposed us to more evil than we’ve ever seen, and we’re afraid it will arrive on our doorsteps.

In 1993, you didn’t know if someone tried to break into your neighbor’s car at midnight last night. But today you can know that when they post their Ring footage to Facebook.

Even though it’s about half as likely for a property crime to happen to you today than it was in 1993, you’re more likely to fear it today. Why? Because you know more than you ever have.

I won’t be giving up my Ring doorbell anytime soon, but I’ll be more careful to avoid the over-informed paranoia of my neighbors and be better about waving at them.

Open Tabs 10/27/15

The Loneliness of Suffering—Vaneetha Randall

Deeply true.

One of the hardest things for me about suffering is loneliness.

Inevitably I feel isolated. Though my friends can help, they cannot share my sorrow. It is too deep a well.

When loss is fresh, people are all around. They call, offer help, send cards, and bring meals. Their care helps ease the razor-sharp pain. For a while.

But then they stop. There are no more meals. The phone is strangely silent. And the mailbox is empty.

The Grief, Happiness, and Hope of Late-in-Life Singleness—Hope E. Ferguson

Helpful piece, I think, on being single later than you planned. 

Over the decades, I have attended countless bridal showers, wedding ceremonies, baby showers, and anniversary parties. Again and again, I celebrated my friends’ milestones while waiting for my own happy ending.

Then this year, on my 58th birthday, I bought my wedding dress. Finally, my wait was over.

For a long time, every milestone and every missed opportunity for true love (including a short relationship in my 40s with a verbally abusive man) prompted me to question God: Why did you allow this to happen? Have I not been faithful? Am I not a good enough Christian? Do you really care about me?

10 Scriptures to Read When You’re Living in Fear—Nicole Unice

Write these down!

Every morning we wake up and listen to the world shouting its troubles. We open our laptops, our front doors, and our newspapers, and the weight of tragedy and evil land heavily. How could anyone not be afraid?

But living afraid is limiting. Rather than reaching out, we pull our energy in to protect ourselves from every threat — real or perceived. With this mindset, it is impossible to show the selfless, generous love Jesus models for us.

KINDLE DEAL: Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem ($7.99)

Hilarious.

The War on Terror is a War Against Ourselves

I was getting ready for school when I saw Good Morning America on the TV in the kitchen and told my mom a plane had accidentally crashed into a tall building in New York. I milled about getting ready for a few more minutes when another plane hit another tall building, at which point my mom said, “Honey, I don’t think it’s an accident.”

I was unsure of how someone could intentionally fly a plane into a building, considering they’d be killing themselves and other people. It seemed like an impossibility to me.

I’m not sure what age children are supposed to understand evil, but regardless of what that age actually is, I reached it on September 11, 2001 at age 10.

The horrors of September 11, 2001 are unmatched in my lifetime—it is Millennials’ Pearl Harbor. When the planes crashed and the towers fell, they triggered an earthquake whose aftershocks have not yet ceased. I am so thankful for our military and our local and national law enforcement agencies that have been on the front lines of both the War on Terror abroad and our war on terror here at home. The work of those brave men and women deserves our utmost admiration.

The Beginnings of the “War on Terror”

I still remember my dad picking me up from youth group on Wednesday in March of 2003—I was 12 at the time—hearing on the radio that we had begun invading Iraq. I watched Good Morning America religiously before school—which is what I was doing the morning of September 11th—so I knew who Saddam Hussein was, I knew who Osama bin Laden was, and I knew one was associated with Iraq and one was (generally) associated with Afghanistan.

The war on terror persists as long as we believe we have something to fear that cannot be conquered.

I, like many at the time, was confused about how invading Iraq was somehow supposed to be justified by “weapons of mass destruction” and September 11th, but I remember thinking that if a bad man was doing bad things in Iraq, we might as well take care of the problem.

I knew nothing of the previous relationships the Bush family had with Hussein, nor did I know the details of the Gulf War, which was unfolding as I was learning to walk. All I knew was, there were bad people in the Middle East who hurt Americans in America, and we were going to take care of them.

In my confused, 12-year-old mind, we weren’t fighting a country. We weren’t fighting a single person. We were fighting the Middle East and the terrorists that, like drug cartels in Mexico, are the de facto leaders even if other leaders are in office.

“Terror” was our enemy and terrorists were his minions. We had to keep terrorists off of planes and, like nasty weeds attempting to insurge themselves upon infidel gardens, we had to extinguish them at the root. This was the beginning of the War on Terror in the mind of a somewhat-knowledgeable 12-year-old.

I didn’t realize that the “War on Terror” was simply an overseas manifestation of a more general “war on terror” to be fought on American soil even after the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, apart from turbans and AK-47s.

The War on Terror Is Internal As Much As External

Osama bin Laden and his goons succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, despite their demise. Sure, we have them to thank for TSA pat-downs and metal detectors everywhere, but beyond that, they showed Americans that American soil is not impervious to mass murder—a reality about which we have been reminded all-too-often in the years since 9/11.

Between Joker-like movie murderers, pressure-cooker marathon bombers, rifle-bearing school invaders, and more, the reign of terror has been upheld by the bloodline left by those who shed the most of it on American soil. Recently, while we were out of town on vacation, a hatchet-wielding man made his way into a Nashville movie theater and my wife, promptly, though not 100% seriously, said, “I am never going to the movies again.”

I don’t blame her for thinking it. But schools, movie theaters, planes, office buildings, churches, and all sorts of other places are vulnerable.

We aren’t safe anywhere. But the thing is, we never have been—Osama bin Laden, September 11th, and every mass gruesome murder on innocent civilians reminds of that every time they commit a heinous act.

If it’s not Osama bin Laden, then it’s James Homes. If not James Holmes, Adam Lanza. If not Adam Lanza, the Tsarnaev brothers. If not the Tsarnaev brothers, Dylann Roof. If not Dylann Roof, someone else, or even scarier, ISIS.

The war on terror is not a war fought against tyrants in Middle Eastern governments or the mujahideen patrolling the Middle Eastern countryside. The war on terror is a war we must wage every day in our own hearts and minds.

Bin Laden, Holmes, Lanza, and all of the rest are either dead or imprisoned forever, yet our fear remains.

Why?

Because the war on terror isn’t a war against flesh and blood it’s a war on evil itself that exists in the hearts of everyone and simply overcomes some to a point of tragic action.

We could send a smart bomb over to the Middle East that could selectively kill only every member of ISIS and every other militant group and still be enslaved to terror. We can give everyone guns or take everyone’s guns away. We can ban machetes and put TSA-level security in every building we construct.

It will not matter.

Until we learn to combat terror in our own hearts, we will always have reason to be afraid.

The war on terror is a war against the human heart, and when a select group of people revealed the holes in the armor of the American psyche on that fateful Tuesday in September, they showed that even Lady Liberty herself in all of her splendor is not exempt from the effects of evil.

Evil exists in everyone. We can build whatever wall or dome we want, and it won’t matter until we realize the evil in the “foreigners” is not different than the evil in our own hearts.

We can’t win the war on terror because terror is not an external force. Terror is an internal emotion that is simply roused by outside forces. The war on terror is ultimately a war against ourselves. Especially in a post-9/11 world, the threat of terror looms at all times.

Think about it. Pretend for a moment that none of the mass murders I’ve listed actually happened. Pretend 9/11 is the only mass tragedy to strike America in the last 14 years. Even without all of the acts that followed, 9/11 in itself provides sufficient fear for a lifetime.

The reality, however, is that violent acts of “terrorism” happen with such frequency that the war on terror will never officially be won no matter how many troops we bring home from camps in Iraq.

We may vanquish every terrorist in the world in our “War on Terror,” and the war on terror will still not be won.

Until we learn to combat terror in our own hearts, we will always have reason to be afraid.

Ultimately, we wage war on terror with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our only hope to escape the perpetual fear of violence and death is by clinging to the cross of Christ and trusting him with our everything.

The war on terror persists as long as we believe we have something to fear that cannot be conquered.

But if you cling to the Conqueror, you may find peace and terror finds its end.