Drive-by community organizing


Urban life inevitably leads to inaction due to the anonymity of a large population.  Every freshman psychology textbook includes the story of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was murdered in Queens in 1964 while her neighbors watched the scene from their apartment windows and did nothing.  While some aspects of it are debatable, the case is often interpreted as a diffusion of responsibility among the many to a tragically inefficacious dose for the victim here.  In other words, she was a relative stranger, and everyone thought everyone else should do something.

As something of an amateur psych experiment and a fun prank when I was in grad school, I used to honk and wave at strangers as I drove around.  Campuses were great because of all the foot traffic.  Gas stations were convenient too because customers are typically standing outside their car at the pumps.  A quick honk, a very enthusiastic wave, and I never stuck around long enough for them to realize I was putting them on.

More of than not, mere social pressure was sufficient to make complete strangers wave back even though they didn't recognize me immediately (or ever, obviously).  After all, what if they didn't wave?  The hypothetical friend who honked would call them on it next time they encountered one another.  "Why'd you diss me, man?"

More than mere amusement for myself, I looked at it as a social service.  Creating an illusion of fewer than the proverbial six degrees of separation has this effect of making individuals feel more interconnected in their society, one that said, "Your friends are always around you.  Be nice."  And it's just funny to see their reactions.

And this kid is my hero.


Copyright 2009 Alexplorer.
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