Men Behaving Badly

The big talk recently in the world of sports concerned the player-fan basketball melee in Detroit, involving the hometown Pistons (mainly their fans) and the Indiana Pacers (mainly light heavyweight provocateur Ron Artest, joined by a couple of his mates). The post-fight analysis identified as a partial cause the growing belief among fans that they are legitimately part of the show. And some rueful commentators observed that basketball has now become more of a show than a sporting event, with dancing and music and a variety of interactive elements that fill every pregame, postgame, halftime and time-out. Dating to the days of Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee baiting visiting teams while sitting courtside in Los Angeles and New York, fans have increasingly felt entitled to be part of the show.

This happens not only in basketball; it has also proven to be a combustible mix in baseball, international soccer, hockey (remember hockey?) and football. The disappearance of reasonably acceptable behavioral barriers has led to a situation where now there are calls for literal barriers to be built between the fans and the players. And the day may come when that solution is adopted. At which point, fans will be able to fight only with other fans and players only with other players. And I guess that will be some sort of an improvement.

But men can be seen behaving badly in many realms. We see the problem of lowered behavioral barriers in full flower on the Internet. "Information," as the saying goes, "wants to be free." That apparently caused a so-called journalist to feel entitled to misappropriate content from this magazine and offer it to another publication as his own. (A CSO reader saw some of this purloined material, recognized it as ours and called up Editor Derek Slater, who ran the perp to ground.) The offense of plagiarism, which when I was in grade school was sold, persuasively, as the basest kind of intellectual dishonesty, is now practiced with an online shrug by eighth-graders shortcutting on homework and college students looking for an off-the-rack term paper on John Milton's use of food imagery in Paradise Lost or on the forces that led to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In this issue, there's a related story (see "Russian Roulette," Page 30) by CSO Web Editorial Director Art Jahnke. Jahnke pursued the story of Alexey Ivanov for a couple of years. During much of that time, Ivanov was incarcerated for computer fraud, extortion, conspiracy and hacking. Ivanov, while based in Chelyabinsk, Russia, was charged with hacking into corporate networks, stealing information and attempting to shake down the violated businesses for jobs. Finally one of them offered to hire him. Unfortunately for him, the hiring managers were FBI agents; when Ivanov and an associate arrived in Seattle for their job interviews (in which Ivanov bragged of his hacking prowess), they were busted. Ivanov explains his crimes as a sensible adaptation to the difficulty of finding work that suited his skills. Unlike other forms of thievery, in which a physical barrier is breached and weapons may be used, Ivanov's crime is quiet and game-likethe clicking of keystrokes rather than the violence of breaking and entering.

How many of the problems that now demand attention from security executives arise from a kind of easygoing, shrugging behavior? And how greatly does that behavior deviate from bygone standards of greater constraint? I'm neither a shrink nor an anthropologist. But as long as video games can offer deeply "immersive" experiences, what's being bought along with the software is a highly stimulating, but cheaply earned, visceral sensation of being at the center of the action. (A recent controversial example is the JFK assassination "game" in which players try to duplicate Lee Harvey Oswald's lethal shots.) It prompts a question that social scientists dwell on with growing urgency: In what ways does this new habituation to virtual immersion leak over into physical realms?

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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