On my way home tonight I was irritated when I saw someone driving fast(= faster than me) and making rapid lane changes without signalling. Maniac. Of course, this is something we all experience every day. My first thought is always the same: Wouldn't it be great if I was a cop in an unmarked police car - OK, unmarked police minivan - and I could pull them over? That would teach that perp a lesson.
I also daydream about something else, though. What if we could somehow demerit people for being rude, without being a policeman, judge, or other authority figure?
There has been a number of trends in recent years where people get credit for achievements that only exist in the ether. Posted something clever on FaceBook? Congratulations, you got 6 "Likes"! Went to that restaurant and checked in on FourSquare again? Welcome, Mr. Mayor of Olive Garden! These things translate into nothing tangible in the real word, yet we still seem to care. It seems that 1) we're social beings and we like the attention and the accolades and 2) we like to accomplish things, even if it's in an imaginary world.
Certain entities have really learned to take advantage of this. Facebook has nearly a billion pairs of eyeballs looking at their advertisements. And companies like Zynga (FarmVille) have mastered the psychology of making people obsessed with accomplishing virtual tasks, to the point where they start spending small amounts of their real money to buy pretend soybeans and pigs. It works: Zynga has grown to have a market cap of over $9 billion in 2012.
So, since we can't seem to help ourselves, maybe we can use virtual currencies to manipulate people more positive ways? It's a little sci-fi, but wouldn't it be cool if we could give people points for being good Samaritans? Thanks for letting me change lanes, I'm going to scan the UPC code on your back bumper and give you 50 virtual gold coins. Or, you wrote a racist/sexist/etc comment on youtube and I'm going to use your IP address to demerit you 10 credits. I chose these examples because typically people act the worst when they think they're anonymous. People would behave a lot better if they they still were accountable for their actions.
Sure, some people would demerit others for inappropriate reasons. How dare she wear the same dress to the party as me? No credits for you! However, if we're talking about each person having very little power only the sum of a lot of opinions would matter. If a widget on Amazon has 500 5-star reviews and 7 1-star reviews, it's probably a pretty good widget.
So, what would the credits mean? Maybe nothing. Like I said, we're social, we're competitive, and we like to achieve things. Credits might be enough for their own sake. Or, maybe if you tick off too many motorists and get too many driving-related demerits you lose your driver's license. Or, perhaps your credits just earn you goodwill when interacting with others.
This last idea makes me think of Daniel Suarez's book, Daemon. Here, people in the near future are equipped with virtual reality glasses that project little bubbles of text over items the user is looking at. When looking at a man or woman you'll see their personal information (linked to the individual via their cell phones), including a virtual credit ranking.
What 's that? You see some problems with my idea? Besides the fact that we haven't invented bumper-scanning UPC readers nor perfected virtual reality glasses, how do you keep unscrupulous people from buying credits they didn't earn? You forsee jerky rich people buying credits from poor nice people who need real world cash?
Sigh. How dare you crush my vision with real word economics? Next thing I know you'll be telling me that I can't live in a candy-cane forest due to the threat of dental caries. Now who's being jerky?