Even the most patient and caring among us sometimes feels compelled to drop what we’re doing and scream at someone violating social etiquette. And while getting revenge on those who text absentmindedly at the dinner table or erratic drivers who don’t use their blinkers may seem like a pipe dream, have no fear: good Samaritans are fighting for justice out there!
That’s where the Crowd Control crew from National Geographic come into play. Conducting social experiments of their own, the team fights back against those breaking with the written and unwritten codes of the world. Even better? They do it with their cameras rolling! One instance recently showed just how far they were willing to go…
Does it ever frustrate you when someone does something wrong—like hog the handicapped space in a parking lot—without concern for those around them? Behavior expert Daniel Pink can help. He loves to use his National Geographic TV show, Crowd Control, to demonstrate what happens when laziness leads people to break social rules.
With his team loaded up on a bus in Austin, Texas, Daniel explained a plan to show the world just how big a mistake it is—from a social perspective—to park unlawfully in a handicap spot. Evidently, people break that rule all the time.
The first step was to simply drive around town until Daniel’s crew found someone parked illegally. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long. Outside a diner called Jack Allen’s Kitchen, someone had wrongly parked a gold minivan in a handicap spot. Daniel’s team got to work!
While the crew unloaded their precious cargo, a woman wandered out of the diner. She was twiddling her keys between her fingers and clearly looking a bit uncomfortable. Was she the owner of the blocked-in van?
Daniel watched the scene unfold from inside the van. “I think the word is sheepish,” Daniel said, trying to find the word to describe her mannerisms. He tried to make viewers feel this woman’s discomfort.
The stunt continued after the crew lowered a man in a wheelchair to the ground. As one crew member pushed him past the woman, she said, “I’m so sorry.” Would she think twice about parking in a handicap spot again?
You have to give Daniel and his crew credit: this was an effective way to show a large audience what might happen if you take up a space for someone who really needs it. Still, this wasn’t the only social no-no Daniel and his crew wanted to highlight…
In another video, the social psychologist took on “smartwalkers”—smartphone users who stared at their screens instead of where they were walking. When you’re looking at your phone, Daniel posited, you’re at a serious risk. Don’t believe it?
As Daniel put it, “In the hustle and bustle of the streets, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but smartphone users walk with their heads down.” So, as before, he and his crew devised a little plan…
This plan didn’t involve buses, parking spots, or wheelchairs—only Joe the friendly (and fake) gorilla! Would the “smartphone addicts spy our guy?” Daniel asked, explaining the experiment, “or just walk on by?” He was about to find out.
Sure, plenty of people—usually without smartphones—noticed the enormous gorilla reading the newspaper. When they did, they would stop in their tracks, take pictures, and even give him high fives. Others were a bit more oblivious…
“It’s amazing,” Daniel said, “how many people with cell phones haven’t even realized there’s a gorilla in their midst.” A few passersby completely ignored the pretend primate before Daniel intervened by questioning a “smartwalker.”
“Did you happen to notice a gorilla back there?” Daniel asked one woman who’d blown right by the gorilla, face buried in her phone. Slowly, she turned, acknowledged the ape, and shook her head. “No, I was on my phone,” she said. Uh-oh.
But this fun experiment underscored a serious problem: “Studies have shown when you’re texting, [your peripheral vision] can shrink to less than 1/10 normal range,” said Daniel. So what would that look like on a grand scale?
A Japanese broadcast created an animation depicting 100-percent cell phone use in a highly populated area. It might’ve been over the top, but the message was clear: walking while distracted in crowded areas was not only annoying, but dangerous. Daniel went on to make an interesting point…
Smartwalking is a relatively new phenomenon, the sociologist suggested. Societies haven’t really figured out how to address the issue—should there be text-only walking lanes? Some other idea? Viewers were left to wonder. Meanwhile, Daniel tackled yet another issue…
Crowded elevators can ruin anyone’s day, and Daniel focused on one contributing cause to packed lifts: able-bodied people who insist on using it for just one floor instead of taking the stairs. So he devised a clever plan to make lazy elevator riders face their misdeeds…
Daniel’s team rigged the elevators so that if anyone planned on riding it up just one or two floors—instead of taking the stairs—the elevator shouted a rude message at them. As Daniel put it, “shame is a powerful motivator.” So, would his plan work?
It didn’t take long for someone to board the elevator and press the button to take it up just one floor. As Daniel planned, the loudspeaker shouted: “It’s only a short walk to your floor. Please exit and take the stairs.” Talk about straightforward!
Elevator patrons laughed at the message and maybe, at worst, blushed. Surprisingly, no one left the elevator as the voice instructed. So Daniel, ever the diabolical sociologist, changed the elevator’s message to something even more embarrassing…
Now when riders hopped into the elevator and pressed a button for one of the first few floors, the speaker shouted, “Hey, lazy. Take the stairs!” And guess what? This rider practically ran out of the elevator in shame! Daniel later tracked her down to ask why.
“For the first six months we were in this building,” she said, “I didn’t even know the stairs were there… I think everyone in the city’s on autopilot; you kind of have blinders on, and you just go to what you know.” So did Daniel’s experiment shut the “blinders” off?
After a day of shouting at riders it deemed “lazy,” the elevator had a measurable affect: it increased foot traffic on the stairs by about 50 percent! Who knew talking elevators could inspire workplace exercise?
After taking a few social blunders head-on, Daniel’s experiments raised some interesting questions. Will you be more mindful of where you park, how you use your phone in public, and when you ride the elevator? Just watch one of Daniel’s experiments below…
Hopefully Daniel’s experiments can generate some positive momentum in making the world a more considerate, observant, and stair-using place! What social faux-pas do you wish he’d scrutinize next?
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