Voyeurism And Observational Learning

Voyeurism is a strange thing. We bipeds like to watch other people, and we seem to be totally addicted to it no matter what our race or nationality. Ask yourself this:  What do most people do with their spare time?

Heck, what do you do with your spare time?

Do you watch TV?  Do you go to sports events, rock concerts, the theatre?  How about Youtube?  When you go to the beach, do you find yourself watching people? Ok, sure the pretty girls or the ripped guys get more looks than others but what is certain is that we like people watching.  Watch the excellent movie, “Middle Men” to get to the root of human motivation.  Porn – the ultimate in voyeurism – is the most searched topic on the Net for a good reason.

Examples Of Observational Learning

What I’d like to propose is putting your people-watching skills to use. When traveling to a new country, Instead of letting your mind wander aimlessly, or spending your time head bowed staring at your phone ask yourself some questions as you people watch.

There are certain mannerisms people take on and certain ways they will act and react depending on their social status, their attitude toward those around them, their fears, and their desires.  In fact, most people’s “sense” of the world is captured in their actions and words.

Scenario 1: The Nonchalant Mother

Consider this scene… A mother carrying full shopping bags, wearing the latest fashions, walks aimlessly down a sidewalk with a small child in tow.  They window shop casually as they walk by a toy store, and as she passes an ice cream vendor she pulls out cash to purchase a cone for her child while chatting on her phone.  A few meters later she steps into a sidewalk café and nonchalantly orders a latte while her child enjoys the ice cream.  When she leaves, she tips the server.

Scenario 2: The Frazzled Mom

Now consider the same scenario, but with a different set of behaviours.  The mother hurries her child past the toy shop windows.  She is wearing scuffed shoes and carries a half-empty bag.  She too buys her child an ice cream cone, but conceals her purse and guardedly pays the vendor before quickly pushing the purse deep into her jacket.  She glances at the cafe, but only for a minute before walking on.

What To Watch For: Putting People-Watching Skills To Good Use

You’ll find both scenarios in New York, London, Tokyo and everything in between. What we are watching for is the prevalence of one over the other in a given country, or the increase in sightings of one sort of behavior over another during successive visits to a country.  This can help tell you what is happening in a country’s economy and even its political environment. Watch to see what sorts of goods people are buying in the shops. Is it the high-quality higher-priced goods, or is it basic and/or lower quality goods?

Price And Quality – What Are People Buying?

Watch to see what sorts of goods people are buying in the shops. Is it the high-quality, higher-priced goods, or is it basic and/or lower quality goods?

Are They Paying Through Cash Or Card?

Watch to see whether they are paying with credit cards or with cash stuffed in their bras. The use of credit cards is ubiquitous with the middle class, while cash is more prevalent in a populace living hand-to-mouth.

Who Are They Leaving Their Kids With?

When you see small children playing in the park are they attended by big brother, big sister or are there parents or caregivers nearby?  Where disposable income is high you’ll find a caregiver or parent nearby. Where both parents are working and don’t have the disposable income available it’s up to big brother, big sister, auntie, grandma, or friends to fill that role.

Are Establishments Stingent or Extravagant in their Upkeep?

In countries were tipping is practiced ask the waiter or waitress what the tips are like.

Do the hotels routinely offer complimentary breakfast and if so how is the quality?  Watch how the hotelier talks to others, what sort of toilet paper is being used, and whether the air conditioning or heating is only on when you rent a room or is it run continuously? When business is good turnover will be high and vacancy rates low enough to mean that running the air conditioning or heating all the time is warranted.

Are the shops in hot countries routinely air-conditioned and in cold countries heated, or are they turning down the air conditioning and heating to save money?  Does the inventory look “dusty” and old sitting on the shelves?

When you hire a taxi, take notice whether your driver overcharges you for the trip. Does he run his taxi on just over empty and fill up when you hire him? This is a clear sign that margins are thin and business is tough. There is little to no working capital. If there is no working capital there is little chance of sufficiently large amounts of savings and capital that can be used to grow business. It goes without saying that a large pool of capital is a prerequisite for an economy to grow.

Exceptions Dictated by Social Norms

Another thing that needs to be considered are social norms. For example, in the West it has become increasingly “normal” for a wealthy businessman to wear more casual clothing. Suits are no longer necessarily consistent with wealth. I for one refuse to wear a suit and I don’t even own a tie.  One need only look at Silicon Valley as an example. Understanding these cultural nuances before coming to any conclusion in a foreign country is important.

It’s not unusual to find a taxi driver in Lusaka grinning from ear to ear telling you life is great while all indications are that he’s living hand-to-mouth in a country that stifles investment and suffers from a crumbling infrastructure, government interference, and violence. Life might be great because his wife just had a child that week, or more frighteningly he may have just downed a couple of beers, finished a joint and is feeling the “love.”

Constructive Voyeurism Has Its Uses

Taken individually these actions may not mean a great deal, however collectively they paint a picture that no government statistics will tell you. Government statistics may even actively misguide you to the reality on the ground.

Lastly, remember that humans are an optimistic and social species. Don’t pay as much attention to what people tell you versus what people do.  Voyeurism – you might as well use it constructively.


“Money is something you have to make in case you don’t die” — Max Asnas


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