Dec 14, 2011 0 Share

How Do I Look?

Illustration of woman being stalked by man in shadows.

Friday night, near a downtown ATM: 

Hmmm...that's a very interesting ATM screen pattern. I wonder how it reflects on the bank? 

As the saying goes, one picture is worth a thousand words. Isn't it cool that my Droid takes pictures and sends them in a flash? 

I call up the appropriate application, stand back a bit and aim my Droid at the screen. 

Say cheese, Mr. ATM! 


I step back and touch the photo on my screen. 

Hmmm … a bit blurry and doesn't cover enough. Maybe another pic, with just one click, will do the trick! 

An older lady approaches the ATM, presumably to do business. 


What do you mean, uh-oh? Don't I have a right to take a picture in a public place? 

You mean to let people know the truth? Sure. Let's start by making sure the woman right there knows the truth—about what I'm actually doing. Right now, here's what she's seeing: 

  • An adult male, younger and likely stronger than she, standing at the ATM and not doing business there. You know how many muggings happen that way every year? 
  • A stranger taking pictures of the ATM. Is he trying to document its security weaknesses so he can break in there at a later date? 
  • Somebody who ought to know how suspicious this looks, yet is doing it anyway … maybe that makes it even more likely he's a criminal, because only a good crime would make it worth looking suspicious? 
  • Not to mention maybe somebody who doesn't care much about others—if he doesn't care about what others think! 

You mean to tell me she's a freelance security expert and is going over all these possibilities in her mind over these last few seconds? 

No--she's a human whose ancestors fought their way to the top of the food chain on the backs of many more physically powerful creatures and even some of their fellow humans. And thus we've evolved a suspicion of anything out of place—especially around something as sensitive as a money machine. 

She's probably read or heard a few news stories about crime around ATMs. She doesn't recall much of the details, but she knows criminals do nasty things there. Besides, the important thing is knowing what to be suspicious about, not the exact minutiae of crimes. People are always thinking up new schemes, and in any case most people can't instantly recall complex stories in a couple of seconds. 

Bottom line: She's not going to say to herself “Is this exactly like the crime scheme I read about last week, or maybe three weeks ago, in “Time, or was it on the TV news? No—it’s a smartphone camera instead of an infrared camera, so everything's OK.” More like “Hmmm...I don't know what's wrong—but I know something isn't right. Maybe snap a picture of this guy, duck into a nearby store and call 911?” 

“Good evening, Ma'am.” 

“Uh—good evening?” 

“This is an intriguing screen display, which I was just snapping a picture of. Here, take a look and see what I mean ...” 

I step back, and wait for the display to come up again. Then I point: “There it is!” 

“Wow—that is interesting!” 

I nod. “Funny, eh?” And then step back several paces to the side and face away so she doesn't worry that I'm trying to observe her type in her PIN or even planning to mug her. 

After she leaves, I go back and snap a good picture. Then I leave.