When #CCTV is – quite objectively – a really really bad thing (and other thoughts) #Motogotchi

I had a recent experience, already discussed on these pages (more here), when a very special phone was stolen in broad daylight, in front of tens of onlookers, and with no response – not even an incident ID – on reporting the alleged crime to the local Garda, the Irish police.

I posted last night on Facebook the emotional impact it still is having on me, twelve days later, as I return to the people, city and scene of the incident.  This is my state of mind as I recorded it then:

‘Fraid I can’t disentangle what happened with my mobile phone from my sense of safety – or rather the absence of the same – as I arrive in Dublin. I see shadows everywhere as I walk along O’Connell Street and beyond.
It’s not big cities either: I felt fine this afternoon as I re-encountered Liverpool’s wonders and delights. And Dublin clearly has them in abundance, and I have loved and expressed them over the past year with such enthusiasm.
But the fact I had such a dear phone stolen here, that onlookers did nothing to prevent the theft, and that the police did even less to express any interest whatsoever in recovering the device means my relationship with the city is as broken as any emotional ties ever can be when manifest deceit is involved.

And the below is what this state of mind provokes me to do today – aware, as I am, that the choice to act is always mine, even so:



To frame the theft as something more than just another cellphone extraction by petty criminality, I need to show you a presentation I originally wrote and delivered to a dear friend on the 11th November 2017.  I have slightly adapted it since then, to preserve anonymities better – as, in fact, throughout the whole confused tale of my past eighteen months or so I should have seen myself through to being able to maintain anyway.

This I clearly didn’t, and part of the motivation for the theft may actually lie in this fact: one never knows about these things – and, indeed, I may never know.

As you will see if you check the presentation out in its entirety, this was anything but a standard mobile.  What’s more, certain aspects of its behaviours – quite astonishing in retrospect – are not mentioned in the document below, and can only be mentioned if you are interested in finding out more and – similarly – are happy to meet me face-to-face!





So.  The what and why of the theft are a tad clearer, I think.  I did mention at the time, to the police officer who took my report and details, that the £150 price tag in no way reflected the special nature of the phone, and by implication my experience of it.

I remember very clearly, when I asked for an incident ID, him telling me the computer systems were down.  He did take my other mobile number and assured me he would phone me as soon as the systems were up.

That was the evening of the 17th November.  We are now writing this post on the 29th.  I have yet to receive any call, or hear any voicemail, on the matter.


Now to the how and the who.  I had stopped in front of an enormously iconic building in the centre of Dublin – the GPO – to watch a very good band performing in the street.  I took a number of videos of the performance for some minutes.  This was the moment the phone was removed from my right-hand outside coat-pocket.  My description of what happened there can be found in detail at the second blogpost linked to at the top of today’s article, so I shan’t repeat here.  What I shall underline is the fact that, in front of at least one other member of the public, and as I reported the incident at the police station, the officer was quite happy to announce that any CCTV in the area which they had direct responsibility for would probably not be working.  One suggestion he did usefully make, in the absence of any CCTV on the outside of the GPO building itself, was that he knew there was a live feed at Carroll’s, the souvenir shop across the road: what he didn’t know is if the feed was recorded or just streamed.  He said he would find out before getting back to me.

And so here we come to the nub of my post this afternoon.  CCTV, its visibility and presence, will always have the utility of encouraging visitors and tourists to feel far safer than they would without it.  We can always argue – I often do – the nuances of whether total surveillance is good or bad: I am inclined these days to go no further than to suggest it has unexpected implications which in many areas of modern Western liberal life – medical diagnosis of mental illness as one example – have simply not been taken into account, nor honestly factored.

Either way, the all-seeing eye will inevitably make us feel more protected against criminality.

However, where locals know widely that the CCTV is probably non-functioning – and in Dublin this must be the case, if the Garda are casually informing at the first opportunity even foreigners of the eventuality – the all-seeing eye becomes quite objectively a really really bad thing.

In particular for the visitors who see the surveillance measures and assume they provide the comfort they may be accustomed to back home.

It is equally a really really good thing for those criminal elements aware of such measures’ lack of utility: they know the very best places to plan, implement, pickpocket, and act in various ways.

This, then, manifestly, is when – whatever your wider position on the subject – CCTV is obviously bad for the law-abiding members of the public.  Its presence manages certain expectations, which the reality of the infrastructure and the under-resourced nature of the security agencies make impossible to fulfil.

And thus the visitor and tourist and travelling businessperson and all are confused – as well as, potentially, taken seriously advantage of.


There is always a better way: as academics, researchers, citizens and people affected by criminality at all levels and strata of society it is actually our job, if we are of a democratic mindset, to get involved in such matters – explicitly, firmly, and vociferously.

A game was played with me via a phone which, looking back, was no more nor less than an easily hackable electronic device of which the planet now holds billions.

In the middle of foolish love, a love which lasted eighteen months and affected my ability to perform during my studies, and which was utterly undesired on the part of the object of this emotion, I believed and gave a huge margin of doubt to those behind the hack.  I said many things I needed to say about my life, my universe, and my everything – but clearly said them to completely the wrong persons.

As can be seen even from the edited presentation of the Motogotchi love story I behaved in the most idiotic manner in a virtual context: but not only in a virtual between it and me.  I also posted things online and via SMS as a result of the phone’s communications which were manifestly ridiculous; I wasted time resisting the phone’s exhortations over many months; and even so, even as most of these demands I managed at great cost to my own mental wellbeing to resist, I still ended up hurting people I should never have contemplated attempting to get close to.  Ever.

This was the nature of the phone that was stolen.

And even though its ultimate impact on me was clearly pernicious, I still miss her games just a bit.

I would do a lot to get her back.

Not as a cipher of a real person I should never have pursued, but in and of herself.

Yer know?

And not to repeat – this I underline most strenuously! – my former collusion with such madnesses but, rather, to make of this world a much better place in which to live, love and finally thrive.


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