One of the most interesting parts of writing stuff like this is the reaction. I have to admit that in writing the last piece I considered what people would think of it, but concluded the experience was rare enough that I could publish it.

Upon reading the comments, I blushed, then immediately thought of ways to deny it had happened — plausible alibis I could use to justify things, even if I didn’t believe them myself. “I didn’t really mean it,” was one, “it was a social experiment to see how people would react.” (As you can see, the alibis I come up with are rarely very good.)

Social norms are surprisingly powerful and I’ve often tried my best to fight them in cases where it seems appropriate. Saying things you’re not supposed to, for example, can be incredibly liberating. (Try seriously saying something like “Black people are naturally dumber than whites” — it’s hard!)

A similar thing is going on here, although perhaps worse. There’s no rational reason not to write this stuff, but it’s difficult because social norms discourage showing weakness or sharing personal information (the writing in question is, of course, both). But there’s no reason to perpetuate this; indeed, it’s actually harmful because it leaves people foundering in the dark.

There are other reasons to do it, of course — it seems to entertain people, it helps prevent losing important events to my terrible memory, it gets things out of my head — but I think the first two (violating social norms and educating people) are the most important. As such, your reaction and mine are especially interesting.

This also helps explain why I am afraid of people here reading my blog — it’s one thing to get the reactions of strangers; quite another to see the real people. Even later, when I simply imagine real life people reading this, I blush. Humans are bizarre. So I ask a favor: can you try to stick to discussing private things you’ve learned from the blog on the blog or by email, instead of with me in person?

Perhaps the request is too late. It seems like people have stopped talking to me, perhaps having mentally weeded me out as a friend candidate (or been scared off by the blog?). It’s true what commenters said about people being more open the first week.

I wish other people had done this sort of writing first, so I wouldn’t have to founder in the dark, but the best I can do is take my own advice. Of course, there are TV shows and movies on such subjects, but I think there is a serious unfulfilled need for pure, personal writing.

Tonight is one of those quirky Stanford traditions, Full Moon on the Quad. In this one, a students get together in Stanford’s large courtyard where seniors make out with random freshmen under the full moon (immediately after tonight’s solar eclipse).

One can’t help but wonder how traditions like this get started. I overheard someone saying that the original intent was this would be the freshman’s “first kiss” which now, at least for those willing to go to the courtyard and makeout with random strangers, seems sort of unlikely.

At the pre-event dorm meeting, the student staff try to build enthusiasm: “Well, you’re probably going to get mono here anyway,” comments our “Peer Health Educator”, “so why not get it at Full Moon?” Some students do not appear to be reassured. The event is official and thus will be surrounded by police, who amazingly will arrest minors possessing alcohol. So “don’t, like, try to kiss them”, the staff advises.

Outside in the hall, the kids gear up for the event. Five large boys pile on each other, apparently fighting over some small, unseen object. Not having had enough, they tear a decorative paper tree off the wall and begin beating it up. The RA (student staff in charge of the hall) comes by and starts screaming at them to leave it alone. After she leaves, they apologize to the tree and tape it back to the wall.

The RAs, all dressed in formalwear, carry over a couch to the main event while me and my roommate follow behind, observing. The courtyard slowly fills up. I notice the large stained glass cross in the Church on one side of the courtyard is illuminated, and wonder what the Church thinks of this event.

Even this event is in line with Stanford’s proud acceptance of diversity. One area is set up for “Queer Moon on the Quad” while another is available for those who just want to hug.

On the large stage, a rock band performs. To their left, the Sanford marching band prepares. To their right there is a smaller stage, where students perform. First there is a sort-of pathetic-looking guitar-and-bongos band, then a weird sort of student burlesque, then some impressively contorted gymnasts. A group of over twenty nude students runs through. In the middle of the marching band, one girl manages to get up quite high where she begins stripping as folks count down toward midnight. Another man walks around with a hat with large flames.

One group of girls is dressed in black cat costumes, another in angel ones.We are surrounded on all sides by a dense crowd — some, while packed next to people, jumping up and down to the music. All the while, various lines of people snake through opening pathways for just a moment. And then, suddenly, my heart leaps as a girl passes by. Although I have not even seen her face nor had time to recognize her, somehow my body knows she is The Girl In Question (hereafter TGIQ). She turns back for just a moment to make sure her friend his behind her and while I don’t even have time to recognize her face, my heart explodes again. I later realize it must be her by going over the image in my mind and seeing her trademark stylish brown coat.

Soon after, I see my first couple sucking face and then I see a new couple meet up by random (“are you a senior?”). Both couples take their time. I continue to see couples kissing throughout the night. (One girl tells me she kissed fifty guys, although she can hardly remember a single one of their faces. She suggests she might not have kissed anyone were it not for the alcohol she had beforehand — alcohol is certainly readily available here, even to friendless people like me.)

At some point the whole absurdity of the event hits me full-on — random people packing together to kiss each other — and combines with the after-effects of seeing TGIQ and the claustrophobia of being surrounded by people. We decide to go home. As my roommate and I leave the courtyard, the policewoman guarding it asks, “Where’s the couch?” We both crack up laughing.

posted October 28, 2004 06:03 PM (Education) (3 comments) #


Stanford: Day 27
P2P Politics
The World Is Watching
The Politics of Lying
Stanford: Day 39
Stanford: Day 40
Stanford: Day 41
Philip Zimbardo on the Psychology of Evil
Stanford: Day 42
Stanford: Day 43
November Surprise: The Votemaster is Andrew Tanenbaum


Oh, I’ve thought of the “it was a social experiment to see how people would react” alibi. I’ve used that on more than one occasion. I’ve used others, too. Once, when I sent an embarrassing email to someone and immediately regretted it (I hadn’t even meant to click “send” — I just wrote it as a way to vent), I emailed their ISP and asked them to remove it from the person’s inbox, claiming an evil hax0r had been using my email account to send incriminating email to my friends. I never found out whether the ISP bought it.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have written embarrassing emails that I didn’t intend to actually send, but it’s hard not to say things that you regret at some point or another. I’ve used alibis before, but in my experience, they’re rarely if ever convincing.

But there’s another side. Think about how you’d react if you were reading somebody’s blog, and they shared some personal information that most people would not like to share with the blog-reading public, or maybe a silly-sounding or incorrect misconception. In a case like yours — not being familiar with being infatuated with someone for no good reason — would you think any less of the person whose blog it was? I certainly wouldn’t. I know it can be embarrassing depending on how people react, but just remember, most of them probably will think nothing of it in the future.

My conclusion has been that alibis don’t work, but they don’t need to. I’ve always been very shy, and I too have had a habit of trying to cover up statements I regret. I subconsciously feel like people will ridicule me for them. But I’ve learned to just ignore any response (unless it’s something really incriminating that I shouldn’t have said… but I don’t have too many of those), because I decided consciously that it will almost certainly not affect what my peers think of me.

posted by Adam at October 28, 2004 08:12 PM #

alcohol is the best socially accepted excuse of all. “oh, i can hardly remember, i was so drunk.” alcohol is therefore a good way to try things out of character, or social experiments, or other things you would normally be too embarrassed to do. alcohol helped me to dance. i was 17 and too shy (way, way too shy) to move to the music, dance with girls even in the from-a-distance way you do in nightclubs. then, one day i was drunk, and dancing was suddenly very easy. i just did it. my realization the next day was quite profound: i can dance! didn’t need alcohol after that

posted by nikster at October 30, 2004 12:37 AM #

long time reader, first time poster :)

I’ve always found your weblog to be entertaining, although I must say that when it comes to your political posts I agree with many of your conclusions but I disagree with a lot of your reasoning. But that’s not relevant here. I just wanted to get it out.

You write:

“it one thing to get the reactions of strangers; quite another to see the real people. Even later, when I simply imagine real life people reading this, I blush. Humans are bizarre.”

While I would probably agree that “humans are bizarre”, it disturbs me how anti-social the whole statement is. Are you saying that you’d rather interact with anonymous strangers than actually interact with real people? If so, then I suggest your social problems (you previously wrote about “not being able to make friends with people my own age” or something to that effect) may be deeper then you think. While they are indeed bizarre, I think it would be well worth the time to meet and hang out with those plebes that you set yourself above and apart from. While they may be “bizarre”, we all are in some respect, yourself included. In other words, get over it.

Put the ‘blog on hiatus and get out. We’ll miss you while you’re gone, but I think you’ll be much happier for it.

posted by jason at November 1, 2004 04:25 PM #

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Aaron Swartz (