You go home to visit your parents in a gated community built 15 years ago in the midst of what used to be virgin pine forest. As a teenager you ran there at night, before the other houses were constructed, when the only visible lights were the stars above and your parents’ house, self-reflecting in the waters of an artificial lake.
Amidst hills and rocks – most of which have been tastefully arranged – there are now cul-de-sacs and a members-only health club, 18 holes of golf and a 4-star restaurant that specializes in Gulf shrimp.
But, standing above all of it now, interspersed throughout the development on tall steel poles painted green to blend in with the well-trimmed forests around them, are surveillance cameras.
They watch parking lots, intersections, driveways, and golf paths; they look down along diagonals at the lobby of the clubhouse restaurant, at the tables inside, and at the various corridors leading to the indoor pool and weight room.
Alarmed by their sheer quantity and concerned that a wave of petty crime has perhaps broken out, you are instead reassured that these cameras are not here because of crime – not at all – but because a new private development outside Dubai wants to study how Americans live.
These camera feeds are reality TV for them; whole parties get together on Tuesday nights to watch an American suburb: BMWs parking in flower-lined driveways, teenagers mowing lawns, groups of two or three women jogging together in the morning as the sun comes up.
This is a research project by overseas developers, your dad explains, cresting a hill in his car beneath an especially well-populated mast of cameras, as formerly rural hills roll away for miles in the distance, and everyone in the neighborhood receives $1,500 a year for participating.