I was standing in line to get some food at Jack In The Box, when from the middle of the restaurant, I heard a voice say, “I’m not going to let you guys harass me.”
All of the sudden a group of kids, who were sitting next to the bathroom not eating anything, got up and started surrounding the man who had made the remark.
The kids looked to be fourteen or fifteen years old. A couple of them were carrying skateboards. The man, on the other hand, looked to be in his early fifties.
The kids started threatening the man. All of the sudden a new kid came into the restaurant. He immediately joined the gang, and shouted out, “I’m going to kick the crap out of you.” The new kid was well over six feet tall. The man took a step toward him and said, “Where’d you come from?”
The man stood his ground. I would say there were about ten kids surrounding the man by this time.
All of the sudden the kids piled out of the restaurant. The incident was over. Or, so I thought.
A Brief Calm
The man sat down with his wife and another couple, and started eating. I too sat down to eat. As I did, my eye caught a glimpse of the same kids who had now congregated on the corner outside the restaurant. I saw two of them working their fingers on their cell phones.
No sooner did I observe this than a group of three older guys barged into the restaurant and confronted the man. I don’t know, but they must have been in their thirties. To the man’s credit, he got up and stood his ground again.
One of the three, a burly looking guy shouted, “Did you threaten my son? Why don’t you threaten me?”
The man responded back with equal force,” I didn’t threaten anyone. Point your son out.”
By this time emotions were sky high.
At that moment the man’s wife got between her husband and the burly guy. I couldn’t hear what she said to the burly guy, but he was listening. The man asked his wife to go sit down. But at that moment, the other couple also got between the man and the burly guy. One of them said to the man, “calm down, it’s time to leave.”
Then I heard the burly guy say, “get in your car and get out of here.”
The man resisted, but as he did his buddy started pushing him toward the door. As everyone got outside, the burly guy shouted out to the man so the kids could hear, “get the f _ _ _ out of here.” He then turned to the man’s wife and said, “Excuse me.”
By this time the original ten kids had turned into twenty or thirty kids who had arrived on the scene. They were all standing outside the restaurant taunting.
The man, his wife, and the couple got into the car and drove away. After that, the burly guy told the kids to leave. As fast as it had started, it ended.
As I sat down to finish my food, I asked myself, “What was that all about?”
The incident happened so fast and was so intense that it took me some time to draw any conclusions.
First of all, what were a gang of kids doing hanging out in Jack In The Box? They weren’t eating anything. This restaurant was located in an upscale beach community in southern California. I have to fault the restaurant. You keep that up and you will lose your patrons. At a minimum, they’ve lost my business. And, I thought, “any time you have a congregation of teenage males who have idle time on their hands, anything can happen.”
Next, the man. I didn’t see what started it all, but if you accept the man’s words, you have to assume that the kids did something that caused the man to feel he was being harassed. And, what I saw certainly seemed like harassment. The kids rushed him. Another kid came in and threatened him with physical harm. Later, the burly guy came in and started intimidating him. It all looked like harassment to me. I admired the man for standing up to it all, one against ten (and growing) is quite a courageous thing to do. On the other hand, by the time one reaches fifty years of age, one should have learned to not only avoid danger, but to anticipate it as well as to avoid it.
The wife was amazing. She got between her husband and the burly man, and defused a potentially very dangerous and destructive encounter. What was even more interesting was that the burly guy responded positively to the man’s wife. And with the other couple intervening and inching the man to the door, you could sense that cooler minds were starting to prevail.
. . . Another Force At Work?
But, the more I thought about it, the less sense it made to me.
Remember the kid who came into the restaurant and said he was going to beat the man up? Where did he come from? How did he know what was transpiring? I thought, “was there a chance that one of the kids in the restaurant texted him?”
And, “what were the two kids doing with their cell phones on the corner? Maybe sending out text messages that went viral?”
“Maybe, the burly guy received a text and descended on the restaurant with two of his friends.”
“The ten kids that turned into twenty to thirty kids also could have received text messages.”
Remember, all of this occurred within five minutes. Only digital communication has the power to mobilize humans that quickly.
As I continued thinking about it, my eye once again was drawn to the outside. To my surprise, one of the kids remained. He was sitting on his bike texting. He was one of the two kids I saw texting on the corner. He also was one of the kids in the restaurant when the commotion started.
When he saw that I was looking at him, he put his phone in his pocket and rode off.
Who Really Was Conducting The Show?
“If all of this happened because of texting,” I continued thinking to myself, “then history continues to repeat itself, but only faster.”
There have always been gangs of kids who congregate. And, people throughout history have been unjustifiably harassed.
But, the difference about this one was that it happened so fast, and so many different parts became involved so instantaneously.
If, for example, the kid on the bike was the one sending out the information, he may have been the least likely, under normal conditions, to be the one who would get things started. I can’t remember the kid on the bike ever saying anything in or out of the restaurant. All I saw was that he was texting.
If the escalation of events happened as I supposed they might have, you can get a glimpse of how groups can quickly gather and grow in an age of instant communication.
Gather and Grow
It seems like everyone in the world is gathering into groups and then seeing those groups grow virally.
With the type of information technology available today, photos, videos, short messages can be shared immediately.
Facebook is the one most often used today. People involved in the Arab Spring in Egypt give Facebook credit for their successful revolution which resulted in the overthrow of a decrepit and corrupt system.
The “Occupy Wall Street Movement” is another example of people gathering and virally growing. One weekend it started in New York, and within a few days, it grew to eleven hundred gatherings throughout Europe and The United States.
There is a case for calling The Arab Spring and The Occupy Wall Street Movement blasts of pure democracy, and crediting information technology for allowing them to take place so quickly. But, there is another side to this story.
As well as creating meaningful reformation, information technology can also facilitate hooliganism. There is a good possibility that I was an eyewitness to the hooligan potential of information technology. If so, I didn’t like what I observed. Constant vigilance is the price we must pay to ensure that something so good cannot be used to facilitate something so potentially dangerous to average people living normal lives.