If you absent-mindedly scroll through your newsfeed today while making intermittent eye contact with your professor, you might find a curious series of posts.
The Facebook status of Gregory Thompson, College junior: It’s been 24 hours since I’ve been able to express my offense over something. This is deeply problematic!
The Facebook status of Fernanda Rosa, Wharton senior: How am I supposed to let people know that I’m morally superior if I can’t call people out for bigoted behavior?
The Facebook status of Brandon Sherman, Engineering sophomore: Enough! Someone had better say something that doesn’t line up with my cultural, religious, academic, and personal worldview. And no, I’m not looking for a debate!
A study by the Center of Strangely Specific Tests (CSST) measured both how many times a day Penn students are offended and how often they use their offense as a basis for either fashioning themselves as morally superior or castigating others as morally inferior (what the study refers to as “using one’s offense”).
The CSST study revealed that on average Penn students are offended approximately 8 times a day but that they only use their offense about once a day, giving them a “using ratio” of 1:8. There is a particular group of students, however, that exhibits a wildly different ratio. These “hyper-users” average a 2:3 using ratio and are offended, on average, approximately 42 times daily.
Those who professed their outrage over not been offended today have overwhelmingly been of the hyper-user category. Their posts seem to suggest something strange, that certain hyper-users feel some sense of emptiness when faced with a world that has given them no reason to take and use offense.
Rohan Mitra, a researcher with the CSST, has been administering the “Offense Test” every five years since 1965. He told us that he has found an interesting shift in the data over the past few decades: “You know, the average number of times people are offended daily has remained surprisingly consistent since 1965, even in the higher percentile ranges. Using ratios, on the other hand, have shifted dramatically upwards.”
Mitra attributes the shift to numerous causes, including the decentralization of traditional media, the rise of social media, and the declining value of having a sense of humor. He has also noticed strange behavioral patterns among hyper-users that seem to run afoul of their self-professed interest in dialogue: “Hyper-users tend to surround themselves with people with similar views and/or backgrounds. Instead of engaging with people who disagree with them, they often dismiss differing opinions either with ad hominem attacks or a platitude and an eye roll. They frequently conflate one’s identity with one’s political position and are so convinced that they are correct that they feel slightly uncomfortable if they don’t hear snapping fingers after they express an opinion. To be a hyper-user is to constantly demonstrate that you are more progressive, more moral, and more aware than your peers and to disregard any evidence to the contrary.”
We tracked down one hyper-user, Rachel Plant, and asked her to describe why she takes and uses offense so often: “Well, it’s hard to look at society today and not find behind most of the words we use and most of the things we do various oppressive systems. And I think to not take offense at such systems is lazy and immoral. That’s why I think it’s really important that people use the right words and make sure that everyone is comfortable and free from offensive speech and behavior.” When asked if such a strategy merely pushes various biases and discriminatory thoughts into the private sphere and makes everyone feel cozy at the expense of the kind of actual dialogue that sparks social change, Plant smirked and shook her head sagely and walked away with a look of utter contempt.
There is still hope for hyper-users, however, as just a few minutes ago someone named Stephen Prescott posted on his Facebook page, “So, people aren’t being offended. Isn’t that what you people wanted?” The status has since been shared and commented upon hundreds of times and it is expected that Prescott will be staging a public apology for his words by the end of the day. The future, it seems, may still belong to the hyper-users and what a comfortable and boring future it shall be.