Monday, June 25, 2007

Recreational Writing and Data-Gathering Pranks

Being creative, writers often find their recreation in creative ways. On occasion some of us have so much creativity (or madness or frustration) bubbling away in our brains that we just have to let it out. The result is recreational writing, a few examples of which you'll find on this blog. (See the original version of the Beatles' "Rain" and the origin of Web 2.0 and my history of the Internet.)

On occasion these bits are published. For example, I’ve sold several bogus advertisements to radio and magazines. Among were a one-minute spot for the Famous Barbarians' Correspondence School, and a pitch for the Ultimate Personal Computer (the human brain and body described in computer terms. That one first appeared in ANALOG Science Fiction Magazine, and was reprinted in the United States Air Force Cryptologic Command Newsletter and elsewhere.) These, and oddities like "What Do I Do if I Get a Phone Call from Mars?" were written during idle periods when I felt this great urge to do something.

But sometimes words aren't enough. Then it's time for action. When I reach that point, I look for interesting pranks that serve a purpose. One of my favorite is an ongoing study of public honesty I've been conducting for about a year now.

The venue is the local Post Office. The study involves dropping bank envelopes that appear to be packed with cash, then observing to see what people do when they find the envelopes. I print, "Cash for money orders" boldly on the outside of each envelope. The envelopes are stuffed with bank deposit slips for realism, and each includes a special note intended for the dishonest types (details on that in a few lines).

The procedure is to drop an envelope between myself and the counter while I'm talking to a clerk. (The clerk helps with observing the subjects.) Then--if there aren't many people present--I walk away and watch from the outer lobby or through the windows in front of the building. If there's a crowd, I leave the watching to the clerk, lest I tip off the subjects of the study.

The results are probably what you think: out of 12 test-drops, 5 people have handed the envelope over to the clerk, while 6 have kept the money--surreptitiously dipping and retrieving the envelope, then sliding it into purse or pocket.

One subject surprised us. A student at the local college (Miami University), he swooped down on the envelope as he approached the clerk, opened it and pulled out the contents in front of the waiting line of postal customers. Then he opened the envelope, glanced at the dummy paper inside, and laughed, "Hey! Someone's having a joke--cool!"

The note inside, printed on more than one ticket so the dishonest subject is sure to see it, reads: "You thought you'd get away with someone else's cash. So did all the people who watched you pick up this envelope."

Never have learned how the dishonest types reacted on learning that they'd been scammed.
Copyight © 2007, Michael A. Banks

1 comment:

Emily Alyn said...

This blog is about Real Writing life on it.Check Advantage coupon