TECH

Don't Publicly Mock People Who Look A Little Funny Using Technology

We're better than this.

Our modern era looks a little weird sometimes. The hottest gadgets around are big, wire-stuffed virtual reality boxes you strap to your face. It's hard to look dignified playing with them.

Still, that's no excuse for taking video footage of someone and posting it online for the entire world to gawk at and retweet.

Here's case No. 1: a short clip of a man playing with a Samsung Gear VR on Boston's public transit system last week. His face is obscured by the device, which is why we're comfortable embedding the footage here. It was retweeted over 200 times after Twitter user Neil Lindquist originally posted it, and an account called Internet of Shit boosted it to greater heights days later.

Here's a guy trying to enjoy himself during the worst part of anyone's day -- cramming into a germ-filled space on a subway ride -- and strangers took the opportunity to post video footage of him online for others to laugh at. 

Sure, the guy looks a little silly. As the BBC and Boston Globe both pointed out, it's probably not safe to wear a device that completely removes your ability to see and hear the world around you when rocketing through a major city. 

But that's not really what these Twitter users were getting at. They're pointing at a person and laughing.

"Luckily, I caught him at one of his animated moments, which seems to have been pretty popular on the Internet so far," Lindquist told the BBC

Yeah, how lucky for you. (For what it's worth, Lindquist said the man he recorded came forward after the video was published online, and that he was ultimately OK with Lindquist keeping it there.) 

The Internet of Shit account exists to point out ridiculous examples of new technology. Did it need to make its point with this innocent dude on the train? How is this furthering the conversation? There are smarter ways to examine the aesthetic of virtual reality that don't involve embarrassing straphangers.

The takeaway for a lot of people is that it's perfectly acceptable to record others looking weird in public places to gain a few minutes of Internet fame.

Case No. 2: a man using a Bluetooth keyboard to type on his phone during a subway ride in New York City. He published an article about his shaming experience last week, so we're OK showing you a tweet depicting what happened.

The man, Jason Wishnow, said he was typing some notes for a screenplay while on his way to work. You can probably imagine how much that sucks: You're folded into a seat on the subway, doing your best to be productive before work, and someone thinks you look ridiculous and publishes footage of you online without permission.

There's a reason why this matters, and it's not just that it's unkind. Steven Spohn, an advocate for people with disabilities who runs TheAbleGamers Foundation, explained why in a series of tweets responding to Wishnow's story Saturday.

Are we really OK with it being open season on people who look different? Who knows what difficulties they're facing? Maybe the guy wearing that VR headset on the train has crushing claustrophobia and it's therapeutic to escape into a virtual world. Instead of working on a screenplay, Wishnow might have been someone developing motor skills on a keyboard for any number of good reasons.

Think what you want, but keep your smartphone cameras out of it -- for everyone's sake.

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