A few months back as I was walking back from work, I saw two guys using a lock picker to a car parking along Valencia. It was an average car—not expensive nor cheap-looking. There were several people walking ahead and behind me. I wondered if I should call it in. Were they breaking in? Was it their car? The ambiguity struck me and eventually when I got to the door, I instead forgot about it.
And so the memory returned when I learned that the alarm went off, blaring and lights flashing in Chris’ car on a busy street. Nobody called it in. Nobody said anything at all. Granted, it was already dark. But it wasn’t a side street. It was a main traffic throughput through San Francisco.
He mentioned one time in Berkeley when he had parked his car in a parking spot in a garage. Because he was a student, he often didn’t get to his car until the weekend. And apparently one time he returned to find his car had gotten broken into with the alarm blaring…for nearly three days. There were noise complaints rather than reports of illegal activity or even an alert from the owner of the parking space to Chris about the break-in.
In some way, one lesson isn’t to leave things in your car. But at another route, you can’t depend on anybody to save you.
When I first heard of the bystander effect, I was appalled. But that’s the way it is. When there is too much uncertainty, people don’t react. Even though it wasn’t someone dying, nobody did anything. And somehow, I wouldn’t either because I would think somebody else did…and perhaps nobody did.