Can I get more Angelenos on public transit by checking into Foursquare?

That’s the question I had after reading a Wall Street Journal article earlier this week: “The Secret to Turning Consumers Green.” The gist: People are enticed to behave in eco-friendly ways when they believe those ways to be the social norm and are made to feel guilty for not conforming to them.

Now, there are a lot of problems with that hypothesis. For one, I’m not entirely convinced that green guilt affects behavior as much as the other green — money. The article begins by opining that the 5-cent bag tax in Washington, D.C., reduced bag use — not so much because of the cost but because of social pressures, an assertion that isn’t proven in the article. Certainly, what I saw when I was in D.C. was that people considered the use of plastic bags but opted against them because of the nickel fee.

Second — and perhaps this is because I now live in gay-friendly West Hollywood and the fact that I read too much Michel Foucault in grad school — I have qualms about people feeling guilty simply because they don't conform to social norms.

On the other hand, I do agree that many of our polluting behaviors — whether it’s the air pollution created from circling around the block for 15 minutes looking for free parking or leaving the heater on at home while sitting in an overly air-conditioned office — have been made so commonplace and “normal” that most people don’t notice these behaviors. Maybe if these behaviors became more denormalized, we could all breathe easier — and pay less on our gas bills, too.

Which brings me to Foursquare. (And if you don’t know what Foursquare is, it’s like Facebook Places with a game aspect. If you don’t know what Facebook is, I can’t help you.) Whenever I get on a bus, I try to check into Foursquare. I say try, because most bus lines span a long swath of the city, making location-specific check-ins difficult.

My reason for checking in up to this point wasn’t motivated by green concerns, but now I’m wondering — perhaps if more people checked into their favorite bus and subway lines, more people would start to see public transit as the norm and start getting on board themselves.

I know what you’re going to ask: What if I want to encourage bicycling? Well, I suppose you could add your bike as a Foursquare location! Has anyone got a bike on Foursquare?

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