My Experience with Breaking the Social Norms of Texting

Alex Catanzariti


Introduction:

For the experiment of this project, I chose to break a social norm by using text messages to communicate with family members and a mutual acquaintance throughout the day about everything I was doing at the moment. During the experiment, I discovered that each individual questioned my motive and were confused by the over sharing text messages I was sending out to them, but each of them responded to my text messages in different ways. One individual responded with silence, no text back, and instead called me. Where as, my text messages and constant sharing of what I was doing through the day irritated another individual I included in my experiment. I quickly discovered that by communicating to these individuals every time I did something during that day, I was breaking a social norm, because the responses I received from most of the individuals was if I had the wrong number, why I was doing what I was doing, or if something had happened to me that was causing me to share these atypical text messages. The experiment I performed and different responses that I received made me realize that by informing an individual of everything I did over the course of a day is not the norm of how people text other people that they know well or not.

Methods:

The process of my norms breaching experiment began with my choice to use texting as a way to contact the individuals that I chose to over-share information with about my day. I felt that texting was the most efficient way I could communicate with these people and get responses, since every one of these individuals have a cell phone. Next, I chose the individuals that I would use for this experiment. I chose two individuals that are adults and two individuals that are teenagers, to see if age played a factor in the different responses I would get.

I chose to perform this experiment using four individuals rather than two, because I was concerned about not getting any feedback. So, I sent over-sharing text messages to two individuals separately on the same day. Therefore, the experiment took a total of two days to perform. During the morning of the first day, I sent a lot of texts to two individuals all day about everything I did that day. Then, on the second day, I started texting the third individual, and I realized that I wanted to see what reaction I would get from another teenager, so I started to text the fourth individual during the middle of the day until late that night. I texted these individuals almost every twenty minutes of the entire day, and received some common, yet interesting responses.

During the experiment, I took screenshots of all of the conversations I had with all four individuals and any texting interactions I had with other mutual contacts. Lastly, I took mental notes of any phone calls I had with the individuals, or with any other mutual contacts.

Results:

Individual A — Silence At First

I started texting Individual A late in the morning, my first text said “Hi” and then stated what I was doing exactly at the time I sent that text to this individual. The rest of the texts after the first one stated everything that I was doing during the day, and I sent Individual A texts almost every half hour of the day. After bombarding Individual A with a ton of odd texts all day, I got no response to my texts until Individual A finally called me that night. As you can see from my texts, I was doing something away from my phone, so I missed Individual A’s phone call. Then, Individual A was so worried by my unusual texts that she called my mother and my grandmother who then called me. Both of them asked me why I was sending such weird texts to Individual A, and that I needed to call her back because I was worrying her. I simply replied that I just wanted to tell Individual A about my day, because I missed her. When I did get into contact with Individual A via phone call, because she wouldn’t text me back, she immediately asked me if I was alright, because she thought someone had stolen my phone or that I had been abducted. I informed her that it was actually me texting her all day, and that I just wanted to share with her what I was doing since we don’t talk a lot unless we see each other in person or have occasional phone calls. I could tell she thought I was acting strange, so she stated that I could just send her “normal texts” if I wanted to text her.

Individual B — Suspicious, But Not Really Fazed

I also started texting Individual B late in the morning, and similar to Individual A my spree of text messages with Individual B lasted all day and I shared everything I was doing that day almost every half hour of the day. Except, Individual B’s response to my over-sharing texts really surprised me and was very different from Individual A’s response. At first, my texts made Individual B think that I had the wrong number and then she sort of got suspicious and asked me what was going on with my texts, but I tried to just go with it so she wouldn’t think to much of it. Then, Individual B surprised me by replying to my over-sharing texts with texts that informed me of all the things she was doing during the day. I figured I’d just keep going with it, so Individual B and I just kept going back and forth telling each other what we were doing almost every hour of the day. Which really shocked me, because Individual B was not really fazed by my over-sharing texts and instead of getting annoyed or concerned, Individual B seemed to really enjoy our uncommon conversation.

Individual C — Uncertain and Confused

The next day, I started texting Individual C, my cousin’s best friend, late in the morning. After a few texts that I sent out, it turns out I had Individual C’s number and she did not have my number. So, when I first started sending a ton of texts stating what I was doing every twenty minutes of the day, Individual C got a little freaked out (my cousin informed me of this), because she did not know who it was. Then, when I told Individual C who I was, she seemed confused as to why I was texting her and thought I had the wrong number. I responded by saying that I knew who I was talking to and continued to send more texts to Individual C for the rest of the day, which Individual C did not respond to for the rest of the day. I eventually received a text from my cousin, who asked me why I was sending those texts to her friend. Then my response to my cousin’s text confused her so much that she called me. We had a short phone call, because she kept asking me why I was sending such weird text to her friend and if something was wrong with me, but I just kept telling her that I wanted to talk to her friend about everything I did during that day. I also asked my cousin, who was laughing, why I wasn’t allowed to text Individual C in that way, and she just said I was being so odd. I believe that my cousin thought I was loosing my mind when we ended our phone call.

(My cousin’s text to me, I’m the one in the green context)

Individual D — Annoyed and Irritated

After I incessantly sent text messages to Individual D throughout the rest of the day about everything that I was doing, I could tell that I was annoying this individual with my unusual texts. The first responses I got were one-word answers and then after a couple more texts, Individual D asked me why I was telling him about everything I was doing and I simply replied that I missed him. Then, I could tell that the more texts I sent to Individual D the more I was annoying him, so much so, that Individual D eventually ignored my texts completely.

Individual D’s responses to my over-sharing texts really captured the essence of one of the reasons why people don’t share their every move or action with someone else. Over-sharing can become extremely annoying and really infuriate some people, who don’t care about what it is that you are doing. However, I found Individual D’s replies to be quite comical.

Analysis & Discussion:

I enjoyed doing this norms breaching experiment and I was pleased with my results, by breaching the social norms of texting, I learned how important social norms are to the way our society functions. When social norms are breached, the responses that one can receive range from silence to absolute anger and disapproval. The reactions to my experiment really made me think deeper about the social norms of texting and other forms of communication.

The social norms of texting is being able to send out a message to anyone you want, about anything you want, at any time of the day you want. In order to text a person about anything, all one needs is a cell phone and the contact information of the person that you want to communicate with. There are no rules, regulations, or limits to what one is allowed to say in a text message to a person. So, I was perfectly able to text the four individuals I did for my experiment in an over-sharing type of way, because the texting app on my phone allows me to do so whenever I want to. However, even though people are allowed to text others about anything they want to whenever they want to, it is not normal to text a person repeatedly throughout the day about every single thing you did that day. It is one of the social norms that our society takes very seriously. Therefore, I broke that social norm of communication and texted four individuals in a way that society thinks is very abnormal, unusual, and strange.

The results that my experiment received truly exemplified why texting an individual constantly throughout the whole day about your every move or action is not the normal way of how our society communicates with one another through text. In fact, even if one were communicating to another individual in person they would still not voice their actions every time they did something. For example, if I were at home in the presence of my family I would not say out loud everything I would be doing, such as “going down the stairs,” “opening the fridge,” or “sitting on the sofa.” Giving people a play-by-play action of what you are doing throughout the whole day can cause people to either ignore you, get concerned, confused, annoyed, or even really angry. Hence, this is why it is socially not normal to over-share about yourself through texts or in person for that matter.

Also, I stated earlier that I chose to include two teens and two adults in my experiment to see if age played a factor in breaking the social norms of communicating in an over-sharing way through text messages. What I found out from my results is that the two teenagers were confused by my unusual texts at first, then became annoyed with me, and later ignored me altogether. Where as, one of the adults thought I was just messing around and the other adult called me to see if I was ok and if my phone had been stolen from me. So, I think that age doesn’t have a huge effect on this social norms breaching experiment that I did, however after analyzing my results I realized that a person’s temper actually plays a role in how a person will react to over-sharing texts like the ones I sent to Individual A, B, C, and D. If one chooses to break the social norms of texting by sending an overwhelming amount of texts throughout an entire day to a person who has a very short temper, watch out, because that person will become very angry with you and may even block your phone number from their phone. Which goes to show that social norms are not taken lightly by our society and when one breaks a social norm, the outcome can be interesting and amusing, but also intense.

Lastly, my experience with breaking the social norms of texting really made me think deeply about how the world of social media has caused us to be a society that social shares so much of our lives online. Today, we live in a world where people share a photo of almost every meal they have or constantly update their followers of what they are doing everyday on Facebook and Twitter. This is exactly what I felt like I was doing when I was texting these four individuals. I honestly felt like I was constantly updating my profile status like I use to do on AIM back in the day, the only odd thing was that I was doing it to each of these four individuals in a very personal way through texts. So, the questions that I keep on asking myself are: Why do so many people feel the need to share what they are doing on social media to people who most likely don’t care? and Why is it that people don’t text others about what they are doing and eating like they do on social media, why is it unusual to over-share through texting, but its not that unusual to over-share on social media?

After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that over-sharing through text messages is very different from social sharing on social media. Usually texting is one on one or with a small group of people. On Twitter and Instagram it is one person sharing to five hundred some followers. It is a lot easier to ignore a person’s social sharing when its not directly communicated towards you. Although, I do believe that social sharing through any form of communication or social media platform can become excessive when people start sharing all sorts of controversial things that should be kept private. I find it fascinating that our society has made it abnormal to over-share information about ourselves in a more intimate way through texting, but it is normal when we over-share information about ourselves to our many followers and “friends” on social media.