You are being watched…
“The government has a secret system. A machine that spies on you every hour of everyday. I know because I built it”
These are some of the opening lines in season one of Person of Interest, a TV series starring Jim Caviezel as Agent Reese and Michael Emerson as Finch, a computer genius working together to solve crimes the government often rules unimportant.
I watched this show when it came on with my brother and dad back in 2011 but didn’t think much of it until my mom suggested we rewatch it last year. It’s really a great show, full of as much action as expertly crafted storylines, and great characters. I really love anything J.J. Abrams creates and this show was no exception.
The show centers around a computer genius named Finch who created a machine to predict acts of violence, crimes, and to find the criminals, by-standers, or victims, although it is unknown which role they will fulfill, before the crime is committed. Finch partners with Agent Reese, an ex CIA agent, presumed to be dead, to stop crimes before they can occur.
The series echoes a similar message to other media we have seen and read in this class. The message that “someone is always watching,” whether by cameras, the internet, or social media. Person of Interest reinforces this message by the machine Finch created and solves crime with. Finch even says it himself: “You are being watched.” The series also addresses the themes of Digital Self, Consumer, and definitely Creator through the criminals, Finch, Reese, and even the government using this technology, and being prosecuted against using “the machine”.
Person of Interest also tells a cautionary tale of how using our cellphones can be used against us. Although a series of fiction, it is fact based as the creators were well aware of the potentials of the US government’s technology and the abilities they have. Besides the machine itself, there is also an emphasis on consumer technology in the series. One of the writers of the show even told Popular Mechanics that cellphones allow “your cellphone carrier, or anyone who makes an app that you allow to use your location information, or any other information your cellphone generates . . . theres an enormous digital footprint that you’re generating, and I think a lot of people are either unaware of it or try not to think about it too much.” There is always the question of, what is the government doing with the information they collect about us? Person of Interest serves to answer this question as well as provide an interesting storyline.
In using this series in the course, I would get students to watch a certain episode, maybe even a few, and lead an open discussion about surveillance technology, similar to how we discuss Black Mirror. Come to class with questions prepared, or even just thoughts about the episode. I also think a fun idea for an assignment would be to have students watch a particular episode where the machine tracks down a criminal, first all the way through, then again to see if they can pick up on how the machine may have chosen that person, looking for clues.
I think a lot of students would enjoy watching this show and definitely learn a few things from watching it, being eager to discuss and share ideas. It addresses many themes we discuss in this class as well as the potential future of technology within the government.