Jeff Jarvis today cites Tom Friedman's recent contention (NYT: due to a strategic error on their part, sub req'd) that the explosion of citizen media will alter people's public behaviour for the better. I disagree. Jeff alludes that he might do so also. Let's begin with an except from Friedman's article:
"Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me! I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, even though I was clearly there first.
"If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”
"Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes! . . ."
Well...perhaps. If it was possible for my every misdeed to be recorded and blogged by whoever took the dimmest view of it, perhaps I would behave with impeccable consideration towards everyone I encountered. There are two less benign possibilities, of course.
(1) Everything I do might be recorded and excoriated by some nut on their blog. At best this knowledge either has no effect on my behaviour since I know that everyone is accustomed to their every action being excoriated by some nut and no-one cares or thinks any less of them for it. At worst, this encourages me to behave less considerately once social sanction becomes hopelessly weakened by misdirected repetition.
(2) Social proof is very powerful - we take our cues as to what constitutes reasonable behaviour from how the people around us behave (see, as ever, Cialdini's Influence). Being surrounded by malign misinterpretations of innocent social behaviour seems likely to encourage emulation. If I read every day how normal it is for people to cut ahead in line (even if the context is that the writer was really annoyed by the experience) perhaps I'll cut ahead more.
And I'd like to note Scott Adams' comments on Paris Hilton yesterday:
"Clearly Paris has made some bad judgement calls. When cameras are rolling, you really ought to be more careful about what comes out of your mouth, and what goes into it. But I have to wonder how many of her critics could survive continuous video surveillance and be mistaken for Gandhi. I couldn’t. I don’t like your odds either."
People have wondered for a while what will happen when the MySpace generation starts running for office with their every youthful misdeed recorded forever for posterity (Techdirt). Tom Friedman suggests that when the cameras are always rolling we'll all be a lot more careful. The behaviour of celebrities already shows us that this isn't really what happens. I think instead we'll all be a lot more confident that the awful things we do are perfectly normal.