Norms Breaching Experiment

This semester I was posed with a task that required me to conduct a norms breaching experiment for the purpose of “discovering and analyzing unspoken norms related to communication technologies”. I was given seven different methods to choose from and all seven methods at first seemed bizarre because they could hinder people’s perceptions of me, as they are all bothersome. The methods provided consisted of; the “Facebook photo-creeper”, “Facebook wall-inquisitor”, the “Over sharer”, “Way off topic”, “Only one medium”, “Always mix media” and the “Dazed and confused”. I chose to do a subtler version of the “Over sharer” whereby you “pick two individuals acquaintances you don’t know that well. In a 24-hour period dramatically increase the amount of information you send this person using a text-based mobile communication technology that you know they can receive (like IM on your phone, text/SMS, or e-mail on your phone/PDA)”. Before I conducted this experiment I created a criteria and drew up a hypothesis; my criteria was people of social status versus your average citizen and the hypothesis was that the person with a somewhat higher social status is less likely to respond and the average person would at least ask who they are speaking to. I say it was subtler because you find that those who respond will not keep going for 24 hours and on top of that, the person’s response determines how vigorous you want to be with your experiment. If someone is more respectful and responsive, you naturally become more reluctant to bother him or her to the point where they get annoyed. When someone is rude but responsive you may get a thrill out of bothering him or her, and then when someone doesn’t respond at all, depending on your character, you may get intimidated and leave it at that. Thus the unraveling’s of this experiment is highly determined by people’s personalities, etiquette, and tolerance levels.

Method: The Over Sharer

I sent an Imessage to a friend of a friend and I started the conversation greeting him using his full name; first name, middle name, nickname and last name which I had seen on his Facebook profile. He found it funny and asked who I was. Since he knew who I was and is close to a lot of people that I’m close too, I figured I would be more mysterious about my identity because if I said my name the whole thing would have failed right then and there. I had heard my friends speaking about him a few weeks before and therefore I knew some of general pieces of info and facts about him of which I chose to bring up in conversation so that he knew I wasn’t a complete stranger. This approach made the person more respectful and responsive because I gave the impression that we knew each other pretty well. It was as if it made him think I was a family member pulling his leg; and he was obviously curious but didn’t want to be offensive. Since I used my phone number to text him he was able to save my number and go onto WhatsApp and see who I was through my WhatsApp profile picture — which was a smart move on his part. From that point the conversation got a little boring so I explained why I contacted him and he gave me feedback on what he thought of everything that had transpired.

The second person I texted was on Viber, which is an app for free calling and texting. This person is a celebrity well known for his music and parties back in South Africa where I used to live and he is friends with some of my friends which is how I got his number. Viber has a last seen stamp that shows people when you were last on the app and it also notifies you when someone reads your message. I am fully aware that celebrities like to snapshot the messages people send to them and post them on Instagram and Twitter for people to see, so I didn’t really introduce myself, all I did was say Hey A**** which he read and ignored. I left it at that because that confirmed my hypothesis; he logged onto Viber a few times after that so it was clear that he simply didn’t want to respond because he has a certain perception of himself.

What I have gathered from this experiment is that people of status don’t respond to numbers they are not familiar with and they aren’t easily made curious because in this scenario, the celebrity saw a foreign number. If they were inquisitive they would have at least asked whom they were speaking to, which baffles me because people of status are approached by people of status for further opportunities but you actually find that an average person won’t text or email a celebrity because they have the pride of not wanting to look like a groupie. So I wonder why one would ignore, as they could be missing out on something.

Additionally because of fake identities I feel it is ideal that you start with a simple hello, because if you start by spilling all your information to a contact that could be dangerous. On the contrary, the fact that I didn’t say anything substantial could be the very reason why he didn’t respond because anyone who’s taken seriously would most probably follow that protocol. My experience with the average person was filled with enthusiasm and positivity, there was an adequate amount of curiousity and humour which made the process delightful but harder because personally, harassing a well mannered person is almost impossible for me, therefore as soon as he was too nice I stumbled and what I had actually planned to do was rearranged. People don’t typically text people they aren’t familiar with unless there is a good reason. A text message is more personal and I breached that norm when I began taking about random things. With the celebrity I breached more than one norm because first, it’s a bit odd to text somebody for the first time on Viber because its not typically used for texting and it is usually used with people close to you. Second, as mentioned above, your average person will not send a celebrity a text because of pride. The impression we get from people’s responses is clearly influenced by stereotypes and prejudice because the celebrity could have simply forgotten to reply the message due to an interruption that may have occurred when the message came or perhaps they did respond but I didn’t get it for some technical reason or he deleted the message by mistake and lost the number. It could be anything but because I already had an expectation I was forced to believe that it was a matter of pride and arrogance.

In all, norms differ from culture to culture and from generation to generation thus none of this is concrete especially because norms are created by people and not so much by the creators of the communication platforms. All creators can do is provide guidelines and an explanation of the different functions that the platform consists of and state the rules and regulations that need to be followed, then the rest is up to the people; thus there is a lot of ambiguity in the phenomena. Nonetheless, my hypothesis suggested that the average person will respond to a norm breach with more respect as compared to someone with high social status and my findings support and confirm this hypothesis.

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