Twenty years ago our society suffered with far more sociopathic behaviour than it does today. Graffiti and vandalism was everywhere, drunken misbehaviour was commonplace. Very many people had no problem in being a blight on our society. And now it has largely gone, as if by magic. It is not just everyday perceptions, the crime figures support this too. And it is not just in the UK, every country in the world has become more civilised, unless they are in conflict. So what’s going on?
The answer is technology. Ranging from CCTV cameras watching our every move to anti graffiti paints and anti vandalism street furniture. But the biggest transformation has been caused by mobile phones and video games.
There was a time, not so long ago, when ill informed people were blaming video games for all of society’s ills, even though they had no evidence whatsoever to support their assertions. Authoritarian lefties like Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton gave speeches blaming games for street violence. Presumably they thought that if games have violence in them then they must cause violence. You can see where they were coming from, the Bible is full of all sorts of nasty violence and it causes a huge amount of violence in the real world.
The reality is that because video games are interactive they act as a catharsis. Anyone who is upset, has a grievance, is annoyed at someone or thinks that they have been unfairly treated can take it out of the video game instead of taking it out on real world society. Also violence within video games is far less traumatic than violence in non interactive media such as books, TV and movies. This is because the game player can do something about the violence, whereas in the older media nothing can be done, so the violence is, in effect, inflicted on the user.
Unbelievably the US government became worried that school shootings were being caused by video games, when every intelligent person knows that they are caused by guns. So in 2004, Dr Lawrence Kutner and Dr Cheryl K. Olson, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, began a $1.5 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice on the effects of video games on young teenagers. Their conclusions can be found in the book Grand Theft Childhood, which said that the US Government had no cause to worry. Then in 2008 in the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, Patrick Kierkegaard of the University of Essex, England, published a paper saying that video games do not lead to real world aggression and that the opposite was true. This, finally, shut up the silly politicians. And now here is the latest research. And here.
The effect can be seen globally. Different countries have joined the video game culture bandwagon at different times. And in every case you can see the increase in gaming correlating with a decrease in a range of antisocial crimes.
And from personal experience, having met a lot of very hardcore gamers, I can tell you that they are the best balanced, non aggressive people you could wish to meet.
Now to mobile phones. Nowadays nearly all these have the capability to make videos and then to instantly post them to the internet. So whilst when I was young if someone misbehaved at a party it was forgotten about a week later, now the video of that misbehaviour will be on the internet for ever, tagged to the perpetrator’s name. Everybody now knows that wherever and whenever they are antisocial there will be several video cameras there to witness it. Especially egregious examples find their way onto our main evening news virtually every night. Citizen’s journalism. Even the police are being forced to behave better.
This is a profound effect on human social behaviour. People are not being deterred by the threat of the police or of punishment. Instead they are being deterred by the potential for social opprobrium. They are more frightened of what other people think of them than they are of what our forces of law and order can do. There is a big lesson in that for all the seekers of penal reform.
Finally a related technology in society point. We now have the technology to cost effectively fit policemen with personal video cameras. So that everything that happens on their shift can be seen by the courts. And, far more importantly, by the police disciplinary authorities. This was tried in Rialto, California and the effect was utterly amazing, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%. Other trials elsewhere have delivered similar results. This is so profound that we should be demanding that every single police officer be similarly kitted out tomorrow. Our society deserves the best possible policing and personal video cameras create a huge step change in delivering this.