Park Like A Jerk?: Social Media for the Insensitive City

Ok. So the name is pretty rude. But the concept is pretty interesting.

Introducing Parking Douche, an app for the Android (GOOG) and iPhone (AAPL) which allows users to take photos of offending parkers’ license plates and detail the make and model of the vehicle. From there, the information is sent to a database where a digital mockup of the vehicle is made and featured in banner advertising on the web — but only those in the vicinity of the bad parking job will see the ad, offering a more localized attack.

There are some crazy and problematic bits to the ad model involved, and, for now, it is only available in Russia. But the idea of using the crowd to exert pressure on people to think about the effect of their actions on others is intriguing. (The article by Mike Schuster, Park Like A Jerk? This App Will Shame You Into Submission, is worth a look.)

It is intriguing because I think that guilt has a proper and valuable place in our lives. Maybe it’s just that I’m Catholic, but I don’t think so. Let me explain.

 

It seems to me that guilt has a couple of different sides to it. On the one hand, guilt is the emotion that we experience when we do something that hurts someone or that we know that is otherwise wrong. Most of the time, we think about guilt as being an after the fact kind of thing. You feel guilty after you do something.

Ideally, though, guilt is something that you feel before you act. It is that intuitive sense that you are thinking about doing something that is problematic. For instance, I should feel a sense of reluctance or guilt if I even think about lying to my wife. That sense develops over time as we do things that turn out to be hurtful, but is transposed from after the event to before it. Learning from your mistakes means developing the ability not to repeat them. At its best, “after the fact” guilt becomes a “before the fact” intuition about what will keep acting in ways that uphold the values we seek.

On the other hand, guilt is a kind of emotional influence or pressure that is placed upon us by others who don’t see the merit in actions that we have either done or plan to do. It’s the proverbial “guilt trip” prominent in so many of our childhoods. Certainly, this kind of pressure can be used in a process of selfish manipulation. At the same time, it can also play a legitimate role in the process of moral formation. For instance, sometimes kids say hurtful things without realizing that are doing something wrong. Asking a child “how would you feel if they said that to you?” can be an effective way of helping him or her to consider the other side of the harmful action, experience a bit of empathy, and begin to feel a sense of regret for having harmed another—the kind of guilt mentioned above. In the process of moral development, there is a place for empathetic and wise members of the community to use guilt as a teaching tool to help along the development of moral habits in children.

Would that everyone developed empathy and an intuitive sense of right from wrong as a kid. Unfortunately, they don’t. Sometimes, the process of moral habit formation needs to continue into adulthood. The problem is that these days, the disconnection and anonymity of modern urban life mean that we can live a long time without ever connecting with someone who can help us develop those habits and senses. And it is just so much easier to live our lives unaccountable to anyone or anything.

This app turns the tables on anonymity by bringing everyone into the process of influence. It crowdsources wisdom to help form people to keep other people in mind.

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