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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Friendship tests and Amish Limewire

By Katie Harger

When Facebook begins to claim that you have hundreds of friends, it may be time to re-gauge the depth of your interpersonal relationships. Phong Tran ’08 chose to take matters into his own hands—or rather, into the hands of Macalester’s Student Post Office, by sending out one-page questionnaires to approximately 160 to 180 of his closest associates, demanding to know what exactly he means to them. Although he’s chosen to keep the results of the survey private, he willingly divulged his motivation to begin such a project. And should Mac Weekly readers want to examine the profundity of their relationship with Tran, the survey can be cut out and returned to him at his SPO address.

Mac Weekly: What prompted you to send out this survey?

Phong Tran: Like other projects I’ve done, it’s an odd medley of ideas, thoughts, and concepts that I mull over during those random times of the day. Like that hour in between going to bed and before you actually fall asleep, or those 10 minutes between classes. Oh, and the 30 seconds from the time a professor asks the class a question to the moment he or she realizes no one is going to answer… fantastic.

Do you think everyone should send out surveys to people they know? If not, why just you?

Oh, God no. Some people actually expect this kind of ridiculous shit from me, and I was still hesitant about sending this one out. I was actually planning a different project, but had an “oh, what the hell” moment and printed these out.

What was the other project?

I think I’m going to save it for next year. So I’ve got nothing to say at the moment.

What if someone responded (truthfully) that they didn’t like you?

I deal with it like back in junior high. Peer mediation.

Has anyone responded unexpectedly? If so, how?

Truthfully, I was never really concerned with the results. Just the possibility of someone taking the time to think, “Man. If I were in physical danger, would Phong be dependable? Well, maybe if he had a knife or something,” was enough for me. Probably the only unexpected response was people expecting some sort of follow-up to the survey.

You don’t have anything planned for the results?

Not really. I mean it was interesting to learn that the relationships I’ve built over the past two years are on average within a C/C+ range. Which is, you know, cool I guess.

Do you take people’s responses to be truthful, or do you look at the surveys on a meta-level and analyze them on the basis of what people want you to think they think about you?

Meta-levels? Eh, well, I guess. There was an interesting social element to this project that was one of the reasons I kept with it. I mean, asking someone to explicitly confront something so intangible as social relations? I actually knew a kid back in the day that did that. We’re not friends anymore.

To whom have you been handing out this survey?

A variety of people, ranging from friends to acquaintances to that one kid that I met last year at some random event and we friended each other on Facebook because that’s what you did when you first found out about Facebook and were really excited to recognize people and find out what their favorite movies were because you know then you could maybe some day like borrow it or something.

What sort of ideal “Phong Experience” are you aiming for people to have?

Ideally, every Phong Experience would leave that person not only satisfied but with the feeling that, just then, they indeed just grew a little in both mind and soul.

What sort of “Phong Experience” are you aiming for yourself to have?

Well since I’m never not with Phong, even a spectacular one is just another experience in a long series of relatively mediocre ones. Like that one time I played Oregon Trail in the fourth grade, but a few days later I sprained my ankle. Man, that sucked. Although I still have the crutches. It’s in the crawlspace of my parent’s house. They’re so tiny!

Are some people going to get weeded out of your life as a result of this survey?

Considering we live so close to the river, I think the most appropriate question would be “are some people going to get washed out of your life?” I think we all know the answer to that.

Have you been doing this sort of thing all your life?

It’s really the realization of how many free resources there are on campus that has spurred these projects. Paper, printing, SPO-ing. Where the hell else do you have the potential to simultaneously waste the time of 1,500 college kids for free? FREE!

Are there any other projects you’ve done that approach this level?

It’s not very comparable in my mind. Most of my projects have a specific idea or concept in mind. Valentine’s was a twist on personalizing a very impersonal card using a sort of fill-in-the-blank on a form letter method. Amish Limewire was an idea in a self-perpetuating medium mediated through sharing. It’s basically using the SPO system to send mix CDs to random people. And then those people use the same envelope to SPO it to other people. And so on. The Christmas card was a borrowing of the structure of a traditional Valentine’s card and reinventing it for another holiday to illustrate the relative shallowness of the gesture. It was a simple fold-over like those cheap valentine cards back in elementary school, except it had a baby Jesus holding a giant heart in front of a baby reindeer while it was snowing on gentle hilltops. The text on the front was “This time of year, even Jesus loves you.” And inside was a drawn kid version of me, and the text “If even sarcastic Asians can show love, so can you.”

What are your hobbies, besides surveying people?

These days, photographing people. I really enjoy invading other people’s space. It’s fantastical.

What books did you read when you were younger?

Oh, well… 11th Hour, Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Dr. Seuss, Garfield, Choose Your Own Adventure, Berenstain Bears, Clifford, Shel Silverstein, Rainbow Fish, Seven Chinese Brothers, and Arthur. This is not including “Reading Rainbow.”

Do you think Facebook is creepy?

Only when that one kid from high school Physics refuses to realize that I’ve rejected him three times now. Damn Curtis. Otherwise, I think it’s fine. I mean I really couldn’t do any of my projects without it. It’s really a wonderful and glorified mailing list. It’s a shame that they took away the ability to compile all the e-mail addresses so long ago. Man, the things I could have done. Or still could.

What are you studying at Macalester?

Studio art, mostly because biology didn’t really do it for me. Don’t get me wrong—I love seven-transmembrane g-linked receptors as much as the next guy, but you know.

Do you think Macalester is lacking in interpersonal honesty or in some other social capacity?

No. I think everyone here is perfect just the way they are, and I love all of you deeply.

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