Madrigal's Law: A Hypothesis About Random Online Encounters

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Ah, the pleasures of the Internet! Lurking around every corner is some young man ready to lob some lowbrow scatalogical joke or quip about genitals. It's about time we systematized our knowledge of this phenomenon. So, in the spirit of other Internet laws (Godwin's, Poe's, etc.) allow me to propose Madrigal's Law: In any social application that randomly connects you to other people on the Internet, there will be a penis reference within your first three encounters. Empirical evidence spilled out of last year's flash in the pan, ChatRoulette, but Madrigal's Law was really inspired by my brief experience with the surprisingly entertaining RandTXT, a random text message-matching application.

Here's how the new service works. You text a question to RandTXT and are fed back someone else's question. When you answer, you're rewarded with the answer to your own question. Simple. I decided to try out some of Pablo Neruda's cagey questions from his late work, The Book of Questions. Here's how the encounters played out.

Round 1
My Q: How did the abandoned bicycle win its freedom?
Answer: It was abandoned.

Evaluation: I was disappointed in the response I got, but hey, my question was kind of a curveball. Let's try again.

Round 2
My Q: Is the crater an act of vengeance or a punishment of the earth?
Answer: Earthfarts.

Evaluation: Really, earthfarts? Really?

Round 3
My Q: And what did the rubies say standing before the juice of pomegranates?
Answer: "Let me tell you about mah wiener!"

Evaluation: BOOM! A mere three encounters in, asking only questions from a 1973 book of Chilean poetry and Madrigal's Law holds.

A casual perusal of the site's other exchanges yielded similar ratios of non-penis to penis answers. Though it's very, very uneven, the site can be genuinely LOL funny, too, if you appreciate an absurdist gem now and again:

Random Q: bang
Answer: Is not as good of an onomatopoeia as 'genitals'.

H/T: Zach Frechette (@ztf).

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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