It had been a long day of classes at Pratt Institute and the Queens-bound G train was packed. I took the only vacant seat; it was across from a shrieking child in his stroller. His mother stared intently at her iPhone.
I'm certain my fellow commuters were thinking the same thing I was: "Lady, please do something, your kid is killing us." Then the mother surprised us. She turned the cellphone around, holding it in front of the child, and pressed "play." She had been filming the tantrum and now presented her child with his own outburst.
The effect was immediate: The child went silent. He watched himself crying with an expression of amazement. I can't say what was going through his mind, but I know what was going through mine: Thanks for the peace.
Greek philosopher Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." But this woman might have stumbled upon a way to help give us examined lives. Because we now live in a time of expanding electronic surveillance, in which we are constantly watched, the potential for self-examination is huge.
What if we could watch ourselves in social interactions or at work?
Wouldn't that be useful?
If civil servants -- police, public transportation workers or service industry representatives -- could watch how they interact with the public, don't you think there might be a change in how they behave? Perhaps security personnel wouldn't be so surly. Professors might not ramble on so much. Drunks might learn to nurse their drinks.
With all the recent exposure of the NSA's surveillance practices and the proliferation of closed-circuit TVs, why can't we watch ourselves, too? We could, ideally, log in to a BigBrother.gov website, then into a personal account, and look at every instance in which we were captured by cameras. We would see and hear ourselves the way other people do.
Of course, this could backfire. We could all become narcissists glued to our reflections on our iPads. But if there is a slight possibility that watching ourselves might lead to greater self-knowledge and eventually more pleasant social interactions, maybe it's worth the risk.
At least Socrates might think so.
Devin Adams is a student in the Writing Program at Pratt Institute.