Leaving Sullivan Station I follow a man. He’s wearing blue jeans and a black sweatshirt; black hair, swept over his head; a black backpack. I walk a few steps behind him, ten at most. He walks about four blocks to an apartment building. He never sees me.
Every person I know would think this is wrong. Even if I do nothing, I’ve robbed this person of privacy. They’ve unwittingly shared the tiniest chunk of reality with me, but they didn’t intend to. My innocuous information gathering—even if nothing comes from it—was, in a sense, robbery.
When lovers act this way, it’s paranoia. When strangers do, it’s stalking. It’s the art of paedophiles and killers.
It’s the mark of modern marketing, too. Disguised by terms like “predictive analytics” and “big data” (Orwell couldn’t write this), companies stalk you every day. They know your route home from the subway, alternates too. They know the brand of those jeans, when and where you bought them. They know what porn you like. They know your politics.
Whether or not they know this anonymously doesn’t matter—the incessant, unsolicited stare is directly analogous with my subway stalking. It’s dehumanizing in the same way that violence is, when people are stripped of their subjecthood and reduced to bodies, stereotypes, “data.” Like other forms of dehumanization, I hope we’ll grow unwilling to tolerate its excesses.