My Interest It is difficult to know why I am so interested in 18th century France. In fact, I am particularly interested right now in the 1770s and 1780s, so that makes my interest even narrower.
There is so much different from the present and yet there are also hints of similarities.
Surveillance Surveillance by the various police agencies of the government grew greatly in Paris during the decades of the 1770s and 80s. The reason, in hindsight, is obvious: the kettle was boiling and it wouldn't be long before the country exploded.
Police, police spies, and informers hired by both abounded in Paris. There is even the story of a policeman "staying over" in the home of a family who said their 9 year old daughter had been raped and was pregnant. He wanted to be there to be able to "report" the event of the birth (it never happened and the mother was put in jail.)
This is not to say that there is any direct comparison between the eyeball surveillance of the 18th century and today's electronic surveillance. What was similar was the urge of the authorities to "know everything." And they really meant, then and now, to know everything. And of course, I have no crystal ball to tell me whether the growing intensity of surveillance is an indication that the kettle might explode as it did in the French Revolution. One worries and wonders.
The Building Boom In the 1780's Paris was the scene of a huge boom in building. Hordes of immigrants were coming to the city from impoverished regions such as the mountainous Savoy and Auvergne. The Auvergnats, for example sent small armies of young boys, who became the chimney sweeps of the city (and their progeny later became the waiters and proprietors of the bistros and brasseries which we now patronize. Outstanding among the building projects was the duc d'Orleans huge market which turned the site of the disused Palais Royal into a grand park bordered by three stories of long stone buildings with boutiques, bookshops, restaurants and cafes on floor one, clubs for hobnobbing, for billiards and cards on the second floor and whorehouses and private rooms on the third. A mini-Las Vegas perhaps (given the attraction of the populace to gambling and easy women) at the ground zero of the city.