I'm at the coffee shop with Jeff and while we're talking I notice a guy with his back to me sitting at the bar using his computer.
I know this is the guy to ask.
Jeff leaves. I write a leave-behind while my target relocates to a table. I wait for him to settle in a bit and then I approach him.
I sit down in the chair opposite him.
"I'm doing an experiment. Every day I ask a stranger to make eye contact with me for 60 seconds. Is that something you'd be willing to do with me?"
"Sure, if you'll tell me what this is about afterwards."
"Of course I will."
"How will we know when to start?"
"I have a timer. It'll beep when the timer starts and beep when the time is over. During the eye contact we won't look away or talk. OK?"
"OK," he says.
"Here we go," and I start the timer.
We begin making eye contact. It feels relaxed. Both our faces are relaxed, not smiling. About 20 seconds in he smiles, then laughs, then says:
"Are we in love?"
I smile but say nothing. He fidgets a little, changing his sitting position. I look at one of his eyes then the other. I can tell that he changes which eye of mine he is looking at a few times. He seems like an analytical person to me. I do not feel like I can read his emotions. About 40 seconds in he says:
"I'm getting bored."
Again I say nothing. Until now he's been leaning forward, sitting in what I interpret to be an engaged posture. Now he sits back a bit. Despite being bored he doesn't break eye contact, so we keep going until the timer expires.
"That's it?" he asks.
I am surprised! I thought for sure that he thought that was longer than 60 seconds. Turns out, that felt like around 30 seconds to him.
As promised I explain my motivations to him. Unlike wither other participants I feel like he may be sitting in judgement of my reasons for doing this experiment as I talk to him, but that's just my impression and I cannot be sure. I suspect that there may be some differences in our personalities and communication styles and that may be factoring into my impression.
When describing my motivations I talk about all of the facets I usually do. I mention this being a vulnerability exercise, both in terms of approaching strangers and in making eye contact. I talk about how I get an adrenaline high simply by initiating a conversation with a stranger, and it doesn't matter whether i get rejected or we actually make eye contact, either way I come out of the experience feeling high, awake, and relaxed.
"So this isn't really about the eye contact," he observes, checking this with me.
"Well, it is and it isn't," I tell him.
IT IS: The eye contact is important because it's something that I personally desire and seek out because I like the connection (potential) that comes from it. I need to feel personally, vulnerably connected to people, even strangers. My life is richer and more fulfilling that way.
IT ISN'T: The eye contact is just a setup. With respect to being a vulnerability exercise, practice talking to strangers (breaking the ice), and an exercise in rejection, the eye contact doesn't really matter. The important thing from this perspective is to ask strangers something they could reasonably say "yes" or "no" to so that the possibility of rejection is present, yet the possibility of a "yes" is also very real.
That is, the thing I am asking them is something they may feel uncomfortable and/or vulnerable doing, so the possibility of a "no" is there, but it's not too uncomfortable or too awkward so the possibility that they will consent is likely, too. My request is (I think) outside of the comfort zone of many people but not so far that they won't reach for it.
As an example and hypothesis, I could probably ask strangers to play patty cake with me and get similar results to the eye contact experiment in terms of rejections, but it wouldn't be as personally fulfilling as making eye contact with people. From my perspective playing patty cake is less intimate and more silly, and I want the more intimate, less silly experience of making eye contact with people. (I think the world benefits from it.)
(Another hypothesis is that as long as I am using the experiment framework people are more likely to say "yes" to doing all kinds of things. For example, "will you do 10 jumping jacks with me?" is another one I've thought of doing. Which, again, I am not doing because I'm going for intimacy instead of silly.)
I say these things to him. He remarks that framing the request as an experiment casts it in a certain light, gives the other person a certain kind of perception about what is going on. I agree, and say that using the word "experiment" and talking about it like that is like using training wheels and makes it safer for people to participate. It's quite different from approaching someone and saying "will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?" with no other context.
This guy seems to get it. He gets something about what I'm doing. It is interesting that with most people their response, at least during our conversation, is like "wow, so interesting!" and this fellow's mind is analyzing and deconstructing it right now.
I ask him if I may use his first name and photograph on the blog, and he consents, so I take his picture.
I tell him my name and he tells me his.
We shake hands and I write down his name to make sure I have it.
Instead of accepting my leave-behind he takes a picture of it with his iPhone, so I keep the piece of paper.
He tells me that he thinks this experiment is very interesting. He tells me that he thinks he may do it himself. How cool! He is thinking about and dealing with fear (preemptive fear before interactions) and vulnerability in his own life, so what we have done today is very relevant to his own experiences. He likes what I am doing. I am so glad that I've brought this experience into his life today.
I thank Srid for participating and wish him a nice day. I leave him at his table and exit the cafe to head back to work feeling quite fulfilled.