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How-to: people watch

We all do it, now learn to get the most out of it with some simple steps from a not-so-creepy student group.
"Look at the beard on that guy!" says local student group. PHOTO COURTESY CAMPUS PEOPLE WATCHERS
September 16, 2009

You look a few seconds too long at that odd looking grad student walking across campus, at that kid on a leash at the mall, at most everybody, really. It’s just part of human nature and there’s one group on campus that wants to let you know that your otherwise creepy hobby is more than alright. In fact, it’s a useful tool that they can help you develop.
The group, the Campus People Watchers, or CPW , which began early last year, has grown steadily in notoriety and reputation. The online magazine Suite101 even named it one of the most unusual student organizations in the county last year.
More than 50 curious students showed up to the group’s first meeting of the year, held on the second floor lounge of Coffman Union — a good place to people watch.”
“I feel good because I know other people are doing it too, so it’s not so creepy,” Michael Bierlein, a physics and art history first year said.
This year, the Campus People Watchers have more hands-on people watching projects on the docket. “Social experiment” is the group’s preferred term for what seemed to be mostly different forms of punking, creating stunts to elicit variable reactions in passerby.
Wearing Packer jerseys outside of a Vikings game, guerilla posting of knit covers for street signs and just plain “intimidating people” were up for a vote as September’s group activity. Though they’re all amusing in their own respect, these “social experiments” make up only about one-third of what the group does, said group president David Shaffer.
Scott Luisi, a sophomore at the University, serves as the group’s Chair of ethics — or as he describes it, the person who “makes sure we’re not creepy.”
According to Shaffer, there is a misconception that people watching is a creepy pastime. It’s not about hiding in trees with binoculars, or collecting information by sneaking around as much as it is about what you do with the information you gather. Here’s a simple four step guide to help you people watch on par with the CPW. When done right, you too may find yourself experiencing daily epiphanies on social behavior and noticing things you never have before.
1. OBSERVE — This is the first and most important step when it comes to people watching. Most people think of people watchers as sitting on a bench for hours at a time with naughty grins on their faces, but according to Shaffer this isn’t so. “The best people watching is done moving around, not sitting down” — and probably best done without the creepy smile.
2. EVALUATE — Take what you saw and evaluate it against yourself. To do this, you must be constantly asking yourself not only “Why did they just do that?” but also “Why would I do that myself?” Try to bond with the person you’ve seen.
3. MAKE AN INFERENCE — Try to explain what you’ve just seen by putting together patterns that have emerged.
4. REFLECT WITH OTHERS — This is where the value of CPW can come in handy, says Shaffer. Share what you’ve learned about others with the group to pool the new insights about human nature you’ve just observed.

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