Social Experiment: Traveling Rad Humans Book

 
 

I have always been fascinated with human interactions -- how strange it is that we can pass so many people every day with their own stories and experiences that we know nothing about (and probably never will). On my way back from San Francisco last summer, I left a letter in the airport asking strangers to email me their favorite memories in life. No one actually did it, but I never stopped thinking about the concept.

So, I brought it to Penn. Home of some of the most cool, passionate, and quirky people I know. Those I have met, I am incredible grateful for how they have impacted me. Those I have not met -- how do I find you all?

In general, how do you meet new people you would normally never interface with because you've already settled into your friend group, decided your clubs, and hang out with the same circles over and over? And when you do meet someone cool, how do you know if they are actually open to meeting up and won't think you're being a creep for asking because you want to get to know them better?

The Traveling Rad Humans Book addresses all of these.

 

Here are the instructions:

Hi! Welcome to the Traveling Rad Humans Book. My name is Carmen :) If you got this book, congrats! It means someone thinks you're awesome. This is a social experiment to test an unconventional way of meeting and connecting with other Penn students. Please read these instructions carefully!

  1. Each person who receives this book will each fill out an individual profile and then fill out the group activities. You can look at mine as an example, but don't look at anyone else's profile until you've completed your own!

  2. That person then passes the book to the coolest person they know. Or, just someone they respect, admire, or appreciate. It could even be a stranger.

  3. All participants must be Penn students. There will be 20 in the end, and I will add everyone to a Facebook group to share the completed book and you can connect with anyone you want to.

  4. You can keep the book for 3 days MAX before passing it to another person. This is to keep the chain going so we finish the book before the semester ends. Once you hand off the book, you're responsible for making sure your recipient passes it off after 3 days.

  5. You're not allowed to keep the book! It's not fair to everyone before you who will never see the finished book.

  6. Don't show the book to anyone who's not a participant, since it will have others' personal information.

  7. Each person must be comfortable with being friended on Facebook and open to making new friends. By participating, you agree you're okay with other participants reaching out to get coffee/hang out after the project.

  8. You must have fun!! (Just kidding, this isn't an actual rule. But I hope you do enjoy this, as I will be planning more iterations if this goes well)

Other notes:

  • All questions are optional. If you don't want to answer, you can leave it blank.

  • Try to choose people such that if you are Person #2, Person #1 and #3 don't know each other, but you think they'd make good friends.

  • We also want to connect people from different areas of the school, so try to review past profiles after completing your own to see what spots we haven't hit yet (for example, if we have no engineering majors, try to pass it to one)

  • If you don't have a Facebook, that's okay. Please make a note on your profile.

  • Note your participant # (found on the top left corner of your individual profile), which will be your identifier in the group activities.

  • Any questions, comments, or suggestions can be sent to carlau@wharton.upenn.edu! Can't wait to meet all of you!

I realized the best way to meet people you think are awesome is to get your current friends to introduce you to their other friends. And by creating a community built on the implicit mutual understanding that everyone is open to meeting new friends, you don't have to worry about the other person misconstruing your intentions as romantic. It's not meant for finding romantic partners (there are apps for that), and it circumvents the problem of being an awkward loner at a Meetup you found online. Because you aren't alone -- every person in the chain knows at least 2 people in the group: the person who passed the book to them, and the person they passed to.

I always loved the idea of physical paper and journals. It is tempting to jump to digital solutions since everything is digital nowadays. But this way, it's mysterious and oddly real. Personal. It makes it easier to get people to open up. Instead of typing up your profile, you have to write your responses. Right now, I have no idea where the book is. But when it gets back to me, I know it will be a pleasant surprise. And there will be many awesome people to meet.

 

Outcome:

First run in Spring 2018 was overall a success! I passed off the book in February, and wrapped up the project in April as the semester was ending.

The final group had 12 people. We intended for 20, but enforcing the book-passing proved to be a difficulty so I had to track it down by following the chain when I had not heard back and the end of the semester was approaching. Since I passed it to a senior, most were seniors and there was a heavy leaning towards computer science majors. We had 2 meetups, which were tons of fun and great bonding experiences.

For the sake of confidentiality, I won't directly share pages from the completed book. But I was surprised at how honest and vulnerable people were willing to be to complete strangers. People shared their struggles with depression, memories from abroad, deepest fears, dreams to raise a family, and so much more that I struggle to put into words. Some parts had me in tears, some in laughter, some in love.

It was a beautifully human connection. I felt that I knew these people for much longer than I really did and got to learn things about them that were far beyond the surface level interactions we had grown accustomed to at a busy place like Penn. But we must remember that every person here has a story. Every person here is a rad human, in their own way. Let's not forget that.

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”

– H. Jackson Brown

Carmen Lau