The zen of surveillence

The centerpiece of Central Park in San Mateo California is a beautiful Japanese Tea Garden designed in the last century by famed landscape architect Nagao Sakurai. It is is one of the finest examples of a tea garden in the United States, and a much-loved island of tranquility and solitude in this bustling high-tech suburb.

But there was a recent addition to the garden that I suspect Sakurai never expected. A series of small shrine-like structures began appearing on the wooden fence surrounding the garden. But these are no Shinden, and they house noKami. Instead the rustic little huts house high-tech infrared beam sensors creating an electronic fence around the perimeter supplemented by several more sensors hidden among the garden landscaping. Apparently when the garden closes each evening, its quiet solitude is watched over by a system worthy of Mission Impossible.

I suspect the system was installed to protect the garden’s prized Koi against midnight fish rustlers. but though I laud protecting the fish, I lament the sad fact that our surveillence society is intruding upon this quiet and tranquil place. Even at midday when the watchdog machines are sleeping, it is a jarring and distinctly un-zen-like experience to come across a dark robotic eye staring blankly down from a fence or out from behind a spray of cherry blossoms. Next thing we’ll have robotic Koi cruising the quiet waters of the pond, watching for people foolish enough to feed the fish.