By Low Ching Ling
ONCE upon a time, I had no qualms about letting fly at people who behaved badly in public.
I told a man off for lighting up in a non-smoking bus queue. I chided an aunty for cutting into my queue at a supermarket and pretending not to hear my initial gentle reminders. And I rebuked a young woman for plonking herself on the bus seat I had just given up for an old lady.
That was before camera phones were invented and citizen journalism was born.
Now, you probably won't catch me lashing out at anyone in public. Not that ungraciousness no longer irks me, but because I fear that a video clip of my tongue-lashing may end up in cyberspace for the world to laugh, gawk and debate over.
Some time ago, my friend and I tried to get a taxi outside Junction 8 at Bishan. We found that instead of taking their place behind us and two other passengers at the taxi stand, some chose to wait at the pick-up/drop-off point ahead. And cabbies stopped for them first.
So we shouted over: 'Hey, do you guys mind? The taxi stand is here.'
All we got were blank stares and the cold shoulder. And more people joined the 'wrong' queue.
Perhaps I was oversensitive, but I thought I saw some people whip out their handphones as we were shouting.
Anyway, we decided to 'cut' queue too and jumped into the next taxi that stopped in front of the pick-up/drop-off point.
In the taxi, I asked my friend: 'Do you think someone back there filmed us and will send the video to Stomp? We probably looked like road-rage psychos.'
That's what happens with today's trigger-happy generation, many of whom see themselves as citizen journalists.
Recently, this tendency has repeatedly reared its ugly head.
Two weeks ago, The New Paper reported that mourners at the Singapore funeral of an American pianist snapped pictures of the body in the casket with their camera phones. Days earlier, gawkers clicked away as an accident victim lay dying on Malaysia's North-South Highway.
Those actions crossed the lines of human decency or worse, though the pictures are not known to have turned up online.
Hopefully, these instances are still rare. Because in my job, I have seen citizen journalists do more good than harm.
They have helped put ugly people on the public wall of shame - with clips such as those starring the foul-mouthed uncle who openly puffed away on a train and the old man who spat gum into a female commuter's hair for laughs.
Sure, there may be a few black sheep, but citizen journalists can help if their intentions are good.
As for my fear of being caught on camera, my friend pointed out: 'Why be afraid if you've done nothing wrong?'
He's right. But you know what? I won't be lashing out at ugly Singaporeans with just my tongue. I'll be doing it with the help of my camera phone.
This story was first published in The New Paper on 4 January 2009.