The average teenager's mind is overwhelmingly consumed by three thoughts: "When can I rub my genitals again?" "How can I find someone else onto whom I might rub my genitals?" And, trailing in third place, "How popular am I?" No matter how much eyeliner they slop on or how many holes they punch through themselves in an attempt to demonstrate that they're the polar opposite of popular, in the back of every single teenager's mind is a nagging concern that all of his or her friends rank higher on the popularity scale than they do.
Now, let's do a little exercise -- and you can participate even if your teen years are so far behind you that you've seriously considered investing in a shotgun to keep the damn kids off your lawn. Go to Facebook and count up how many friends each of your friends has, then calculate the average. Guess what? That number is almost certainly higher than your number of friends. Oh shit, you're unpopular! You may as well just go build yourself a cabin in the remote wilderness and brush off your manifesto-writing skills! Right?
Who cares what it looks like? Who are you going to have over anyway, loser?
Not exactly. It turns out that pretty much everyone can do this exercise, no matter how popular they are, and they will always find that the average of their friends' friends turns out higher than their number of friends. How is this possible, you ask? Blame the unholy witchcraft that is statistics.
What your average teenager unconsciously tallying up his or her friend list doesn't realize is that this simple experiment is flawed from the get-go, for the simple reason that those friends you're measuring are inclined to be popular, because they're friends with you. Think about it. The more popular someone is, the more likely it is that they're your friend. If they're not popular, they probably aren't friends with you, and therefore weren't included in your count. As a result, your friends' weighted number ends up averaging more friends than you.
"Then, if you murder Chad, you'll go up at least four places on the list."
Keep in mind that this paradox can be applied to many other aspects of life. The people you date have all had more dates than you have, because the ones who don't date didn't date you. All the kids on Xbox Live are absolute thunder-pricks because the ones who aren't don't end up screaming profanity into your ear. Just remember that it's nothing more than a fluke of statistics, and if you let it get you down, those asshole mathematicians win.
Put yourself back in your teenage shoes for a minute. Maybe some nice Air Jordans, or perhaps some sparkly platform shoes, depending on just how far back in time you have to travel and just how fancy you happen to be. Now imagine that those shoes cause you to trip and fall on your way to homeroom, resulting in a teen-comedy-movie-worthy mushroom cloud of books and papers -- right in front of a crowd of gawking fellow students. You just know that by lunchtime, everyone's going to be talking about it, whispering and snickering about how you're just about the biggest dork in school, second only to that kid who managed to accidentally set fire to the local swimming pool.
But wait a minute. What if someone told you that within 10 minutes, the number of people who remember what seems to you like the worst moment of your high school life is going to be approximately one, and that one person is going to be you? Because someone is telling you that, and that someone is science.
"You can trust us. We have lab coats."
Back in 2000, researchers conducted a series of experiments to determine to what degree people thought their behavior was noticed by others. The research consisted of forcing test subjects to wear Barry Manilow T-shirts in front of observers (because science is a cruel motherfucker sometimes), then state how many of the observers they thought had noticed it, as well as putting them into a group of people tasked with making a decision and having them report on how they thought the others would rate their contributions.
The results were fairly conclusive: When made to wear an embarrassing T-shirt, test subjects predicted that twice as many observers had noticed the shirt than actually had. When put into a group brainstorm, subjects believed that others would judge them more critically and rate them as making more speech errors and offensive comments than they actually had. Paradoxically, subjects also believed that they had spoken more often than they did, and that they would be rated higher by the others on the general awesomeness of their contributions.
"And what do you think, guy in the stupid shirt who we'll all laugh at forever?"
In short, people thought their mistakes pretty much defined them in the eyes of others, when in fact everyone else cared very little about whether they wore a bad shirt or made a shitty suggestion. Scientists called this the "spotlight effect," referencing how a typical person believes they're always in the spotlight, when in fact everyone else in the room is far too busy being aware of their own imaginary spotlight to give any fucks about what's going on under yours.
While this unfortunately means that others are probably going to forget about your positive contributions almost as soon as you make them, it also means they'll forget about your colossal fuck-ups just as quickly. And let's face it, your average teenager is probably less concerned about being remembered for correctly answering that one teacher's bonus question than for the Gym Shorts Incident.
Unless it makes it to YouTube. In which case, good luck finding a new school in another country. On another planet.
So add up all of this and it becomes clear that adolescence is just the pile of shit and friendship bracelets you're required to spin your tires in for a while before they let you out onto the open road that is the rest of your life. If you spend your time there trying to succeed at being a teenager, you may never get around to succeeding at being a human being.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Hilarious Story of American Football Abroad.