Monday, April 4, 2011

95 Theses?

Last night, at approximately 10:43pm EST, a firestorm of comments broke out in response to a status I posted on Facebook:

Moral dilemma: I need to dry laundry. The two-dryer system is blinking "select type;" that is to say, someone has paid for one of the dryers but not hit "go." I can use their credit on the other dryer, drying my laundry for free. Or, I can hit "go" on their machine, drying their laundry for them. Pros and cons: go!

95 comments appeared between 10:43pm and 12:08am. Admittedly, 35 came from my account. There were ten contributers in all, including myself. People wrote comments, responded to one another, and clicked "like" to support comments that others had already written. The most-"liked" post (+4) was, " This is such a nerd thread yeesh." The longest post consisted of 163 words.

"dry their laundry. don't be a jerk." was the first reply to the dilemma. The final comment was merely the emoticon ":p" representing a tongue-sticking-out smiley, for those unfamiliar. But what did people actually say in between? I've highlighted some of the most interesting ideas raised (paraphrased):

  • Do something nice for that person later
  • What if it was someone you knew, personally?
  • Using their credit is stealing
  • Would you feel guilty?
  • If you use their credit, they might guess what you did when they come down to check on the laundry
  • Do you want to make someone else sad?
  • Perhaps it depends on your relationship with this person
  • Do unto others as you would have done unto you
  • The machines are just broken; maybe you have the situation all wrong
  • Laundry costs money at your school?!?
  • You should have done your laundry earlier

But then, of course, we moved away from talking about just laundry:
  • If someone dropped a dollar, should that be returned?
  • Why are we up this late, on Facebook?
  • Where would you draw the line; would you use someone's credit card if you found it?
  • Does karma play a role? Is this supposed to be your opportunity to take back something from the world, or else is this a time to invest a good deed?
  • Are we motivated by self-interest? Is that a bad thing?
  • Hold on to your values, even when no one is watching; it gives you identity
  • You can get ahead without taking advantage of others
  • Can we rely on others to do the nice thing, or is the safest policy to count on everyone to do the selfish thing?
  • What value do we attribute to feeling warm and fuzzy?
  • Can we change how other people act by starting to act a certain way ourselves?
  • We can only control ourselves

Final Thoughts
Some interesting ideas can be drawn from what happened. Firstly, as Sydney has mentioned, this is a wonderful demonstration of the legitimate and valuable uses of social networking. Facebook provided a way to connect nearly a dozen people from all over the country in discussing an idea in a rapid-fire way. Secondly, we have been presented with some cool philosophical food for thought.

Are human beings self-interested? I would say so. But that's not a bad thing; it helps make us reasonable, it means we act for the result, even if that result is a good feeling about ourselves or our contribution to the world. That said, do human beings help others? Of course, for those very feelings discussed. When do they choose to do so? Hard to say.

I liked this example because the situation was so isolated. It's not like running a red light where, if everyone were to start doing it, we would fall into chaos. Everyone cannot start taking advantage of laundry machines; it was a rare accident.

So. You're all alone with the machines. Do you use the credit?

On second thought, don't answer that. Just tell me this: did we, ten college students messing around on Facebook at midnight, make you think?

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