My partner wanted to buy a video camera doorbell sometime around Thanksgiving. We live in … well, I'm not going to tell you where we live, because I talked her out of it, so we do not have a video camera guarding our stoop. There is something about video doorbells that has always put me off.
It isn't just the surveillance state thing. I mean, it totally IS the surveillance state thing, but not exactly. Gizmodo covered this issue in some depth recently. I just didn't think we needed that level of home security, and I don't really want to live in a neighborhood where that level of security is the norm.
When I first heard Ring founder Jamie Siminoff with his ubiquitous radio commercials, I was enticed by the idea of a video doorbell for all the nicest reasons. I could spot cute animals like armadillos and badgers wandering across the yard at night! I imagined squirrels in various poses somehow perfectly framed for my doorbell. I saw myself in repose in a tub full of bubbles, flicking lazily at my smartphone and casually telling the salesman at the door to go away, I don't need any.
Maybe I would catch a package thief.
Maybe I would catch a package thief! Except I've never had a package stolen. I hear it happens all the time. I've read studies that say large portions of the suburban homeowning population have lost packages to pirates. Piracy! On our lawns! One study by Amazon-owned Ring said one in five people have lost a package. Another study by Comcast, the internet and home security camera provider, says that number is as high as one in three people!
If Amazon could install Ring cameras everywhere, it could stamp out package theft much faster, but is that good for consumers or just Amazon? The average lost package costs $140, according to Ring. The fanciest Ring doorbell costs $100 more than that, plus you automatically join Ring's Neighbor police spying network. Subscription-based video security could easily cost you more than $140 in a year of service. Package theft is not such a horrible or violent crime that we should spend a ton of money and give up our privacy to local authorities.
Crime is not as bad as it used to be. According to the Pew Research Center, not only is property crime like package theft down significantly over the past 25 years, but violent crime has also seen a substantial decline. Property crimes are down 54%, according to FBI tracking. The Feds also say violent crime is similarly down 51%. Other trackers show even steeper declines.
Crime is not as bad as it used to be.
Not surprisingly, Pew also finds that most Americans believe that crime is getting worse, when things are actually much better. There is plenty of blame to go around for stoking that fear, but I'm not blaming video doorbells. I think video doorbells are a symptom of the fear, not a cause.
Instead, we should recalibrate our safety concerns and ask whether we need the video surveillance in the first place. Instead of a camera, invest in a smart door lock that is convenient and useful. Try a smarter irrigation system or a smart garage door that knows when you're home. Get a camera because you want to watch your pets, not because you're afraid of who's coming to the front door.
We should enjoy the convenience of a smart and connected home, and inevitably there will be use for video cameras within and without. When we open our homes to these watching eyes, let's keep those eyes clear and not clouded by fear.
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