Field Research: AEPi Frat Party+Mobile Devices

For my field research I found myself unsure of where exactly I wanted to “people watch”, for lack of a better term. I found myself on Thursday night being dragged out by my friends to the Fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi or AEPi. As we began to get dressed and ready I thought, “watching people interact at a frat house might be quite interesting”, so the people watching began.

The first interaction with media I noticed was my roommate Melissa* deciding to leave her phone at home because “drunk texting/tweeting has just gotten me in way too much trouble these past few weeks”. I find it really interesting how much of a problem a phone can become to someone who is intoxicated, we say things we shouldn’t, text/call those we really should not, and sometimes take photos of things that cannot be erased (I will get to this later).

AEPi was full of Temple students and brothers of the Fraternity; sometimes it is difficult to get into these parties if you don’t know anyone. I had to call a friend to come let me inside, than had others yell because they were not allowed. The AEPi house is actually one of the old Philadelphia houses, kind of ancient from when Philly was thriving and Gatsby’s walked the streets. It’s a house with a large kitchen, two living room areas, a huge basement, hidden staircase, other hidden passageways, a second floor with six bedrooms on it, and a third floor with seven bedrooms. It’s a huge house, filled of brothers who live there all year and multiple times a year they give up their personal space for the sake of the party.

On the walk to the AEPi we pass some girls who have decided they were going to take selfies as they walk, nearly bumping into multiple people as they do so. This was the first of many, many, many, selfies I would see me taken. People took photos while on the dance floor, while waiting in line for a drink, while talking to friends and when the “Let Me Take A Selfie” song by The Chainsmokers came on, the people on the dance floor went nuts. On the dance floor itself, you saw the typical group of young girls dancing around with each other and then in a circle bordering the edges of the room are guys, some young freshman and even some football players all just watching. They stand and watch, play on their phones, and sometimes get up enough courage to try and dance with one of the girls.  As the DJ in a booth over looking the dance floor plays out the songs everyone knows you see him never look up from his computer screen for more then a minuet, he is constantly moving mixing songs and playing the crowd favorites.

We then go upstairs to the first floor to observe another group of students. Some sit on the couches in the living room, others stand in groups and talk. Surprisingly not many are on their phones, they are engaged in conversation…oh wait someone just took a phone out. She’s in a group of three and it seems the other two are more into the conversation then her.  Then I get asked “hey! I don’t know you but…can you take a picture of my friends and I?” I say yes because its something we have all done and will forever do, we take these photo’s to help document the nights and bring back the memories we may not at all remember.

Up to the second floor we go see one of my friends in the frat. In his room there are four of us just sitting and talking about our weeks. As the girl next to me goes to check the time I notice her phone is in military time, reading 22:45. I mention it to her and my friend Julian* says his phone is also in military time. They both have them set that way for different reasons but I found it interesting how many people I know who have their phones set that way. We begin to start talking about the music that is playing when I realize that the boy’s are watching a basketball game on the TV, while we also have music playing from a computer, Facebook is also up of course, and then we are also there having conversations and learning how to speak Russian. We have so many different forms of media to look at and be distracted by, but they’re really just background noise to the conversations being had.

Then we head into another brothers room and the first thing I see is someone is taking a Snapchat. Further into the room we can see that there is an individual asleep on the couch and everyone has taken this as an opportunity to take photo’s making funny faces in front of them and snapchatting them to all their friends. In this day of social media it is hard to keep anything private anymore. No matter what you do it seems like someone can have it up on to Snapchat/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Tumbler/Reddit in a matter of seconds. And this becomes dangerous for the individuals that sometimes make bad choices, the person on the couch may have not meant to fall asleep but forever now there will be a photo on this random person’s phone of you. Your social media imprint is forever, the Internet is really forever.

We go back down to the living room and I overhear someone discussing a problem with her friend. “I just can’t deal with my phone anymore. My roommate is texting me with a dilemma, I’m out at a party I don’t wanna deal with you right now!” She then clicks her phone off and returns it to her pocket. Sometimes we just don’t wanna have to be constantly looking at our phones.  As the night begins to come to a close I see a lot more phones being used, a lot more pictures being taken and a lot more just standing around. On the dance floor girls just stand while their friends dance and sing along to a song. Or they will dance, dance, dance, stop, look at their phone, text back, put phone in pocket, dance, dance, dance.  People, including myself suddenly stop everything we are doing to reply to someone’s text message.

Overall from doing this field research I noticed how much more we depend on our phones and how sometimes it’s just easier to leave them behind and not worry. We also surround ourselves with media, all different kinds of technology and all different kinds of distractions. We take photos of people we don’t even know and post them for the world to see just to get a laugh. These photos live on the Internet and can come back to haunt someone.




One thought on “Field Research: AEPi Frat Party+Mobile Devices”

  1. Given these observations, how might you design your social justice app? What would be the goal or target of it? You mention a lot about the benefits (i.e. you could call your friend and get into the party, people can capture the moment, etc.) and drawbacks of mobile devices (bumping into people on the sidewalks, drunk texting/tweeting, taking pictures that might come back to haunt people). Pulling back from the technologies for a moment, what you seem to be interested in is how people make choices and the impact those choices have one others. Group logic might say it’s funny to take a picture of someone passed out at a party. Given various ethical frameworks, and put somewhat bluntly, we might say it’s kind of jerky to take pictures of people without their permission (indeed some of the ways such pictures are used amount to bullying). Awareness of the impact of one’s actions on others seems to permeate most of your negative examples, while community build and sociality are what you frame as positive. Is there an app you might design that could promote those positives or caution against those negatives? Or perhaps something that could help save us from ourselves, when it comes to constantly checking our phones, sending messages we later wish we hadn’t, etc.?

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