Student party Calimero announced its latest plan through a Facebook ad: every room in the RUG buildings should be included on Google Maps. It’s easy to say that these future University Council members should focus on more relevant things, such as preventing a debacle in China or making sure that the money from the loans system is spent where it should be, just to name a few things.
But as Calimero said in their Facebook ad: ‘Sometimes small things can make a big difference.’ So let us take proper look at this Google Maps plan of theirs. What is the big difference this plan could make, and is it something we want?
Students often get lost in the buildings when looking for a room. Calimero is certainly right when they say that these building are downright maze-like. Rooms are hidden in dark offshoots of mysterious stairwells and are indicated with random combinations of numbers and letters. Many an arts student has had to make their way through the labyrinth of lecture rooms at the Harmony to try and find room 1313.0344. Would their cell phone be the right tool to help them?
Because what’s wrong with the old-fashioned way of just asking someone for the way? Not only would it be faster than getting out your cell phone, there’s also another important advantage: it will make you happy.
Talking to strangers
Psychologists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder did an experiment in the Chicago subway. They offered commuters a five-dollar gift certificate in exchange for starting a conversation with the person next to them. The commuters who started a conversation with a stranger said they had a significantly more pleasurable journey than the control group, which had no contact with their fellow travellers.
Similar research has come up with the same results. Talking to strangers gives people a happy little boost. There are even indications that the feeling of happiness after interacting with strangers is as large as after interacting with friends and acquaintances. And who knows, maybe those strangers could become acquaintances.
Calimero wants us to use our cell phones to find our way towards our lecture rooms. Not only is that less efficient than asking a strange fellow student or concierge, but it’s also less fun. How many chance meetings will be lost to this technology? How many potential friendships, romances, or simple smiles will be lost when we stop asking each other for the way?
Small things can make a big difference, Calimero claims. Therefore I would suggest to you, Calimero’s aspiring council members, that you focus on other small things. Such as a certain reckless prestigious project in China, the pressure of budget cuts on our research and education, and the awful quality of our machine coffee.
Adriaan Duiveman, coordinator Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) and coordinator of the Centre for Digital Humanities