A Technology Social: The MP3 Experiment

The MP3 Experiment is when a group of individuals download an audio file which at a set time in a set place will begin to play over headphones. Steve was the name of the guide of the one here on campus Nov. 7.

“The MP3 Experiment was created in 2004, shortly after the original iPod,” said Charlie Todd, a member of the New York based group Improv Everywhere, and the mastermind behind this experiment. “I remember seeing subway cars where almost every passenger had white earbuds in. I thought it would be cool if everyone was listening to the same thing, and even cooler if their headphones could deliver secret, synchronized instructions.” Thus, the MP3 Experiment was born.

The Experiment is designed as a theatrical event that, “blurs the line between audience and performer,” Todd said. It can be equally delightful to participate in and to witness. Several of the participants were Honors students here at UVU and all of them agreed that the MP3 Experiment is highly enjoyable. There is a new one designed every year and over 3,000 people participate regularly. The one that found its way to campus is what Todd calls a “Touring edition,” which is made of all “the most fun parts of our New York events and combined into a “greatest hits” of sorts.”

Among these “greatest hits” was freeze tag, dramatic exercises, an epic balloon battle, remote control  and “Steve says”. Everyone had their favorite parts:

Drake Hansen, a sophomore of physics, enjoyed the game of Steve says. During the game, Steve instructed participants to wink at someone they thought was cute and then, without saying “Steve says” instructed audiences to grab that person’s butt. Later, he pulled a similar trick and told people to punch themselves in the face without saying “Steve says”. In response, Hansen said, “Big props to my man Steve. What a good lad. We’re proud that he is opposed to sexual harassment and also self-harm.”

The climax of the event was a massive balloon battle, in which everyone inflated a balloon they had been instructed to bring beforehand, some people even bringing multiple balloons. They were then told to start 20 paces away from each other before charging into battle. When a person took enough wounds they were to enact their own epic death scene. Mitchell Wagner, a sophomore studying Biology said, “Those wounds I got in the latex balloon wars, they still hurt me at night; but I think the wound that hurt the most was that one I sustained from one of my own comrades because we were wearing the same color shirt and the fear in his eyes as I died.”

Natalie Neilson, a freshman studying illustration said, “I would recommend it. Even just watching. It’s a lot of fun.” Watching the event is especially interesting because only those wearing headphones know what is being said. If a person walked by during the remote control game they would see people walking forward and then backward as the “rewind button” was pressed. They might also hear conversations fall absolutely silent as the “mute button” was pressed.

Kate McPherson, the UVU Honors program director, was the person who brought the MP3 experiment to UVU. She decided to do it as part of her Honors colloquium class, which is themed around Play this semester. “I thought we would play a mass game in the quad in front of the library and make us laugh,” McPherson said. She thought it would be the perfect way to unwind right after “a really tense election.”

She thought Steve did a great job of allowing the participants to “surrender control” and focus on something outside themselves. The MP3 Experiment came to her attention through “The No Pants Subway ride” that Improv Everywhere also does every year. She made sure to take every precaution in notifying the campus of the event. That way, if the event drew a gigantic crowd, everything and everyone would still be safe. “I think it’s really important for students, no matter how serious they are, to stop and have fun. Life is better if you just do something silly once in a while. I would definitely do this with my students again.”

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