Look Ma, I’m an idiot

The recent Domino’s Pizza “horror” video and its aftermath got me thinking once again about the apparent disconnect some people experience between their antics in the virtual world the real world consequences.

We have all seen stories of people who after a heavy night out, use Facebook, Myspace or something similar, to share their experiences with “friends” and then phone the boss to say they are too sick to come to work the next day. They often seem genuinely surprised when the boss discovers the truth and shows them the door.

There are also cases where someone has made a relatively innocent comment on their personal social networking pages about their employer or a work colleague and this has resulted in them losing their job. This sort of cross-over between activity on social networking sites and real-world employment consequences is now becoming so common place that it has stimulated much debate about issues relating to privacy and employment contracts or workplace agreements.

In December last year, three teen-aged girls from North Carolina decided to have a quick bath in the sink used to wash dishes at the KFC store where they worked. The bathing took place after the store had closed and one of the girls upload photos of the event on to her Myspace page for her friends to enjoy.

Unfortunately for the girls, many other people, including the KFC manager, also saw the photos and their employment was terminated. In my opinion, given that no real harm was done, this was rather harsh punishment for some youthful hijinks.

And, then last week we had the Domino’s Pizza video outrage. In these case a couple of employees demonstrated their creative interpretation of health and hygiene including, coughing and snoting over food while preparing it, putting some cheese up a nostril before using it in the food, and washing dishes with a scourer that they had used as a bum wiper: All in all a rather tasteless affair.

The Domino’s duo decided to share a video of their antics with their friends, this time on Youtube. Over 500,000 people “enjoyed” the video before it was removed and needless to say the pair were tracked down and sacked. The President of Domino’s then went on Youtube to apologies, explain the actions that had been taken and state the “tremendous pride they take in crafting delicious food for you.”

No doubt Domino’s will take a substantial hit over this, but I am not particularly interested in that, or the content of the video for that matter. What I do find interesting is that both of these people are over 30, and they do not appear to have had any awareness of the likely consequences that might result from sharing the video, which they maintain was a hoax, with their “friends”.

People, mostly young men, behaving badly and doing stupid things is not new. And I don’t exclude myself, for some of the things I did in the past were exceptionally stupid and reckless. Many years later, I still thank my lucky stars that I did no harm to anyone else and no real damage to myself. Most of this stupidity happened in the company of friends and was shared with a few friends, but we all fully recognised that it would have been insane to share our exploits with everyone.

I wonder if a world of instant global communication is increasing our desire for mass recognition and instant gratification. And if in the process, our understanding of privacy or our notion of what is a “friend” is changing. Is this part of the reason for the apparent disconnect between virtual world actions and real world outcomes that is becoming more prevalent?

The examples I have cited here are all rather trivial. More worrying to me is the use of this great communication medium by young men to share with others their assaults on women, or by skin-heads to share videos of assaults on gays and Jews.

3 Comments

  1. related?:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090423.lsexweb24/BNStory/lifeFamily/home

    and the book: http://www.thenewgoodnightkiss.com/index.html

    The author argues that father absenteeism, ineffectual sexual education classes, Internet porn and a hypersexual, “poisonous culture” that promises status through the accumulation of luxury goods are to blame.

  2. Thanks Doug, interesting article but not something I have a lot of direct knowledge about. What I am mainly interested in, is how this apparent desire for mass identification and instant gratification might might be contributing to the evolution of language and the disconnect between cause and effect.

  3. Roger, I think you have an interesting question here. It has led me down a few paths of reading. Once the topic is on my radar semi-rated articles seem to jump out to me constantly. Okay I’ve wandered on and off topic to a degree. You might find this article interesting:
    Is MySpace Good for Society? A Freakonomics Quorum
    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/is-myspace-good-for-society-a-freakonomics-quorum/?hp
    Martin Baily, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to the McKinsey Global Institute:
    ***The minuses are that all of this sharing can be dangerous, through gossip and potential abuse of the services. Examples include reported suicides linked to malicious gossip circulated on a social network. Some people become addicted to life on the computer screen, and withdraw from personal contact — it’s a long way from people sitting on the porch talking to friends and neighbors.
    Social networking sites are affecting the labor market as well, because recruiters evaluating young professionals applying for jobs are now hacking into applicants’ profiles, and making hiring decisions based on profile photos in which applicants are drunk or inappropriately dressed.
    I am by inclination a technology optimist, believing that the bad things will be filtered out over time and net benefits will emerge. But in the early stages of any new technology, the buyer must beware.***

    Danah Boyd, Ph.D. candidate at the School of Information, University of California-Berkeley, and fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society:

    ***These sites are tools. They can and have been used for both positive and negative purposes. For homosexual teens in rural America, they can be tools for self-realization in the battle against depression. Thanks to such tools, many teens have chosen not to take the path of suicide, knowing that there are others like them. For teens who are unable to see friends and family due to social and physical mobility restrictions, social media provides a venue to build and maintain always-on intimate communities. For parents whose kids have gone off to college, social media can provide a means by which the family can stay in meaningful contact through this period of change.***

    Why should it surprise that some pizza workers hate their meaningless job. The real damage is to the company’s public relations. Perhaps along with security (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8032886.stm) this will be a new battle ground.

    How many short years ago was a camera added to a cell phone. Society is Flotsam and Jetsam’s child who’s peddling as fast it can just to keep the bad kids in sight. Language watches trying to be cool with gleamed bits of natter. Occasionally it adds an outdated word to its dictionary in an effort to be cool.
    (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/bn-review/note.asp?note=22261272)

    A page perhaps related: (Look at me quoting from the internet sources I haven’t even fact checked…Have me shot.)
    http://nomuzak.co.uk/dumbing_down.html

    ***Susan Long presented a paper at the Paris Symposium of ISPSO (International Society for Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations).

    She writes: “The second half of the twentieth century produced, at least in the developed countries, an increasingly narcissistic society (Lasch, 1979; Miller, 1999; Lawrence et.al., 1996). This has been commented on by many writers where links to high levels of consumerism and withdrawal into a ‘me first’ position are seen to have permeated group and organizational life. (…) While socially narcissism indicates a withdrawal from openly collective life and thinking and turns the libidinal instincts in on the self, perversion indicates an exploitative attitude, with the other regarded primarily as an accomplice in the achievement of exploitation. The passage from one state to the another occurs through the purely instrumental relatedness that emerges in narcissistic states of mind. I argue that the culture of private consumerism is based on instrumental relatedness. That is, a relationship where people use one another to gain their own particular ends or fulfill their own specific agendas with little attention to mutual aims or to the quality of the relationship per se (Long, 1999)***

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