How tempus doth fugit! Already it’s been three days since my last post, and if I don’t do one now it’ll be four. Incidentally the first time I came across the phrase tempus fugit was when I read the ‘Catweazle’ books as a child. Catweazle is a rather inept wizard from the 11th century who finds himself unexpectedly in the 20th – a sort of Dr-Who-meets-Harry-Potter – and spends the entire book (or TV series) trying to get back. Spell after spell fails, though he does succeed in teaching the pre-teen boy he meets a little Latin, until one day he manages to send himself back to fight the Normans again. It’s full of amusing misunderstandings as Catweazle attempts to get to grips with modern technology: the ‘sun in a bottle’ (a bulb) worked by ‘electrickery’; and the ‘telling-bone’ which is probably a better name for the device than the one we’ve got.
It was 1970 when this was first broadcast on LWT, the weekend incarnation of ITV in London and the home of some quality programmes. Good job it wasn’t a few years later though because by then my parents would have got evangelism and turned agin it, I suspect. As it was my Dad quite enjoyed the series.
But I digress. I ramble greatly, because what I was going to write about today was the feeling that all of us are being watched- not only by the ubiquitous CCTV but by others; people we meet, people we pass in the street or who sit at the next cafe table or opposite us on the bus. People are watching us; meaning that we are now more self-conscious than ever before, because we know that others are poised to satirise what we do. Anyone with odd clothes, weird bodies, strange accents or inexplicable hair, can expect to be vilified on social media; anyone who fails horribly at karaoke will see themselves trashed forever on youtube, and god help you if you’re a public figure and you trip up. These days you can’t even get drunk without it being recorded and splashed all over the internet. Even in private conversation we can feel more self-conscious about whether we’re sounding too middle-class or too feminist or too Christian or using the wrong words. We censor ourselves – because someone is watching. Someone is listening. And that someone will report you.
This, it seems to me, is what has replaced the old forms of social control. When I was growing up the entire adult world was watching and ready to report us to parents or teachers if we stepped out of line. Hence when I was sexually active and hiding the fact from my parents, I felt the need to go to a family planning clinic in Ealing, miles from home. I certainly couldn’t risk telling our family doctor who, since I was under 18, would have had no compunction in informing my parents. And all hell would have broken loose.
Still at least I could get drunk without it being videoed.