A couple of days ago, I went for a a walk with a friend. The point of this walk was not to get exercise nor to get to a certain location. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The whole purpose of my walk was to move around in a random pattern and observe how the lack of any specific pattern affected those around me.
Society, as a whole, has certain norms that people tend to follow for one reason or another. Over time, as people continuously follow these norms, citizens become complacent with them and they become social standards. They abide by them without ever giving it a second thought. In fact, people only realize that these unwritten rules exist when someone fails to follow them.
This is the exact phenomenon I experienced on my walk. By using a random number generator to control my decisions, I had no control over the route I walked. This eliminated my bias towards the social norms which I would normally follow without question. Starting at the end of the hall, in the doorway of my honors classroom, I eventually worked my way to the front of the building. Upon arrival at a table I met a man named Glen. A kind man who I otherwise would not have met. He was selling artwork to raise money for a nearby animal shelter. Had I not run into him on my random route, I more than likely would have never talked to that man.
My route did not end there. I then worked my way outside where my walk really started to get interesting. As I had mentioned, my friend was with me. While I was ready to embrace the possibility that people would find my breaking of the social norms wrong, my friend was not as comfortable with it. At one point, we were supposed to walk over a raised bed of shrubs along the edge of an open sidewalk a mere two feet away. While I walked through without hesitation, my friend was very skeptical because there were numerous people in the cafeteria watching us through the windows. As I walked back and forth I could not help but notice the bystanders pointing and informing their friends of the two people causing shenanigans in the shrubs. Our path then took us through the middle of the fountain where even more people observed us making fools of ourselves, but this was when I noticed the one thing that really stuck out to me during this walk. While most people were watching me; wondering why I was acting out, I realized that some people actually enjoyed watching what I was doing. Instead of being quick to judge me, they appreciated my rebellious behavior. I had not actually done anything wrong or illegal; I was just breaking social norms, but these few people embraced my abnormality as much as I had.
While this walk was not planned, it help me realize just how much my movement is planned by others. From the grocery store to the library, routes are laid out in a way that provides the most exposure to each location’s most desired attributes. People do not walk certain paths because the want to. Instead, most routes are taken because they have to be; usually due to the fear of breaking social norms.