People Watching: Harmless or Perverted?

I can't help but notice that people watching is taking Europe by storm this summer. I was in Venice a few weeks ago and some friends were people watching to waste time.
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Watching people is pretty harmless right? I mean all you're doing is sitting there observing people go about their daily lives, maybe picking up a few idiosyncrasies here and there. You might see a couple on the verge of an argument, watch someone who is completely lost go around in circles, observe a parent stop to settle their screaming child, watch as someone checks their reflection in a nearby car window, or see a teenager stop to take a selfie. All the while you're just a passive observer of life passing you by... right?

That is until you turn it into a game, start poking fun of the people you're watching, or you make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe you stare for just a little too long and they catch you, maybe you notice someone watching you. Then it gets a little awkward, depraved and just plain creepy.

Cafe Terras by Zoetnet licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Yet I can't help but notice that people watching is taking Europe by storm this summer. I was in Venice a few weeks ago and some friends were people watching to waste time. I heard an American couple outside my apartment window discuss where the best people watching spot was, and a group of twenty-somethings along the Champs Elysees announced "Let's like totally stop and have a drink and people watch!" like it was something completely new that they'd just, like, made up.

I didn't have the heart (or patience) to tell them that people have been watching other people for years. But rather than just kind of doing it now, like the early adopters did, everyone is openly announcing their intentions to watch others. Soon we're going to be a bunch of people, watching other people, just like in the Jack Johnson song.

wikiHow has a nine-step process to begin people watching that includes setting your parameters, practicing natural observation, selecting a location, and recording your thoughts. I'll let that one sit with you for a moment.

There's a 'what's your favourite people watching game' page on Reddit that includes games like 'teenage mum or sister?', 'Mormon or non-Mormon?', and 'spot the drug deal'. I did not make any of that up.

The Urban Dictionary even defines people watching as a hobby!

The sociologists among us will say that people watching allows us to learn about our culture and our environment. And while I completely agree, it's not the same when everyone is doing it.

My guess is that most people probably aren't behaving naturally anymore because they know they're probably being watched. And on that note, if you're an avid people watcher, how do you feel when people watch you picking your nose or racing to catch the train?

Whatever happened to sticking your head in a good book, closing your eyes and accidentally falling asleep on in the park, or looking out the window daydreaming? Maybe I just have to accept that watching people is the new norm and people are going to do it whether I agree with their intentions or not. It is a free (ish) world after all...

What do you think?

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