Food For Thought

Big Brother Is Watching

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Who’s watching over your shoulder? Yesterday it seemed like everyone was watching my every move. In a world that’s becoming ever more centered on the use of technology, we have become oblivious to having our every move recorded by someone’s camera. Yesterday morning I left the house and headed to the bank. As I pulled into the drive-in a camera was pointed at my face recording my actions. It didn’t matter that I’ve banked at this institution for some 30 years — they still needed my picture. To make matters worse, the new teller also requested to see my driver’s license. It also has my picture. I guess she wanted to make sure she was giving the money to the proper person. The one thing I hate about banks is the high bank-teller turnover.

I left the bank and went to mail some E-bay-sales documents. Seems the post office also needed my picture. I hope it wasn’t to be posted on their bulletin board, although being one of the top 10 of something does have some appeal. From the post office I headed to Lowe’s to purchase some plumbing supplies for the bathroom I’m rebuilding. Being a former shop teacher is a curse. There’s always another “honey do” job, and you can’t say, “I don’t know how to do it, call a plumber.” After purchasing the supplies I headed to the checkout line, and I do mean line. During the checkout process I noticed all the new small black domes hanging from the ceiling in front of each line. The ceiling looked like something from a Star Wars movie.  There were many more of these black domes monitoring each aisle. Lowe’s certainly wasn’t going to miss recording any of their customers on film. The cashier even asked for my phone number, which she promptly recorded on the computer. When I requested to have the home number of “Mr. Lowe” she seem confused. I guess asking for personal information is a one-way street. I didn’t want to ask for her telephone number for fear of being accused of sexual harassment. Besides, I’m too old to know what to do with it anyway. I just took my bags and headed for my next stops. Would you believe that every major store I went to that day also needed to record my picture? It made me feel like some movie star ... really important.

On the way home I had to stop at an intersection, since the light was red. There, high in the air, was another camera. I got the feeling that local law enforcement really didn’t believe that I knew red meant to stop, so they were just providing me a friendly reminder by taking my picture. I guess I’d also receive some form of picture in the mail if I failed to stop on red. I also noticed an officer recording a driver he had stopped on the opposite side of the highway.

When I got home I decided to go fishing. I caught some really nice fish, which I released, but my friends had to take my picture before I flipped one “big-un” back into the Chesapeake Bay. The picture ended up on a Web site,, for the whole world to see “Dr. Bee” and his boat the “Jon Bee.” The Web technology is wonderful if you’re the type of person who wants the whole world to know about you. Yes, I have my own Web site at if you want to know more about me. That evening I had a cooperative meeting. Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative also wanted my picture even though there is already one hanging on the wall along with the other cooperative directors. Nice to be wanted.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

Society has accepted the broad use of cameras in monitoring and changing behavior; how about using the camera to monitor student and teacher behavior in the classroom? I taught in the technology lab at George Mason University. There was a camera mounted on the wall, which was connected to the Internet. The world could view my teaching in real time. I didn’t feel threatened, but often wondered how my students felt.

Having spent some time as a principal, I could envision the principal’s office of the future. It would look something like the security station at a major airport with cameras monitoring every classroom, hall, outside entrance and parking lot. No need for teachers to send a disruptive student to the office. I could instantly spot classroom problems and request the disruptive students be immediately sent to the office. With the hall and outside door cameras I could follow the student as he made his way to the office. If he attempted to escape I would have school security on his trail in an instant. No more need to have parents come to my office, just forward the imagery to their house over the Internet. No more long discussions debating the guilt or innocence of the disruptive child: the evidence would be on film.  Teachers might have some concern that they too would be watched, but as noted above, we’re being watched all the time anyway, so “get used to it baby,” it’s progress. The school superintendent could watch the principals. Everybody could be watching each other — what a great teaching environment.

I just saw on the TV where we placed another satellite in orbit designed to take pictures of our neighboring countries. Don’t be too concerned — only a few other countries have the technical ability to watch the U.S. You should probably be more concerned that almost every neighbor has a video camera. Nothing escapes being recorded, as the 9/11 disaster has illustrated. Last night a family having a birthday party for grandma filmed me at the local buffet. I even decided to pose with the group. I wanted them to have a good shot of their new eating neighbor. During some future viewing of the party, someone will probably ask, “Who’s that?” No one will know, but they’ll quickly find out by going to the Internet and having the picture processed by face-recognition software. The computer will tell them it was John E. Bonfadini and ask if they would like John’s family history, medical records, voting record, driving record, favorite music, tax returns, vita, etc. 

Society faces some real challenges as we move into an era in which we relinquish some of our personal freedoms in order to find and identify the few who seek to do harm to the masses. I don’t have answers, only concerns ... hope you’re also concerned.

Teacher Honor Roll

In our January issue we asked our readers to nominate their best teachers for our teacher honor roll, and the mail came pouring in! We will publish a few each month until we have acknowledged all of our fine educators.

Nominator: Barbara Hicks
Teacher’s Name: Sam Wilson, Jr.
School System: Prince Edward County HS
Primary Subject: English

Before Mr. Wilson, I was a “C” English student and with his guidance I have become an “A” student. Through his enthusiasm and love of teaching English, Mr. Wilson brings new and innovative teaching methods to the classroom —- allowing his students to not just learn, but to experience and excel. Furthermore, he is a friend who reassures his students daily that writing is a process, and had I not experienced it, I would not be the person I am today.


Nominator: Betty J. Keys
Teacher’s Name: Frances Helms
School System: Prince William County
Primary Subject: Biology

This lady was a kind, caring, no-nonsense teacher who was a great influence on me.


Nominator: Catherine Ackerman
Teacher’s Name: Mary Hartsell
School System: Fauquier County HS
Primary Subject: Choir, Music Appreciation

She taught perfection, and would accept nothing less. She taught us to try harder and to strive for perfection.


Nominator: Brian Smith
Teacher’s Name: Mrs. Hill
School System: Chemung Co., NY
Primary Subject: 6th Grade

Mrs. Hill woke me up by believing in me. She turned around years of poor performance. I owe where I am now and where I’ve been to her. God Bless her.



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