Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Advent of a New Discourse

This marks my initial foray into the sort of author's blog I will need to have at some point anyway. Why not start now? I will not let things such as the lack of a firm topic stop me - precisely because I do in fact have a topic to complain about.

You will find that my posts here will consist in roughly equal measures of updates of my work, ravings about the works of others I am currently enjoying, and petty complaints about mundane aspects of human life. Of the three, I will likely seem most impassioned when it comes to complaints. I don't feel this is truly the case - I think that the minor annoyances of the daily human world are the only area of life I do not have a satisfactory outlet for - the deeper issues are taken care of by the whirling twin lawnmower blades of creation and absorption that join at the axle of Work - my own and others'. Some of the shoots and buds of annoyance get clipped by those shears, but only through sheer chance. The rest, dear reader, shall be dealt with only with your assistance.

I will not, you see, ever wish to write a story only about how irritated I am with people standing on escalators. I might force a character to complain about such things, and I probably will - but I do not wish, on the whole, to pepper my work with my own petty pet peeves. Not when I could condense them into a gruel of pure maligned entitlement and spew that soup of anger here for you all to lap up like hungry dogs!

My first complaint, I think, sums up all my others and contains them within itself. It is this: Other pedestrians seem to believe they exist in a vacuum, and that only their goals matter in the scheme of things. This line of thinking is the cause of sixty to eighty percent of all my life's woes, at least.

Let's look at a few quick, easy to understand diagrams.

Diagram 1

Now, this problem affects me perhaps more than it would people in most American cities, or indeed most cities in the world. Why is this? I live and work in the Twin Cities, Minnesota - and downtown Minneapolis features the world's largest continuous 'skyway' structure. What these amount to, basically, are a labyrinthine array of hallways that connect each building, joining over the street in glass-encased elevated walkways, but mostly consisting of winding halls the like of which most people never encounter outside of a video game. These halls are a breeding ground of thoughtless pedestrian habits. The first diagram shows the most common of these.

When one see that someone is in front, off center slightly, walking down the aisle, and adjusts ones own angle accordingly to pass this rude individual without causing them any problem and just leave the whole ordeal in the past, these rude folk veer wildly, seeming glimpsing you out of the back of their head and making the necessary steps to cut you off again. 'That's ok,' I think, 'I've only walked an additional 20 feet out of my way to get around this person, what do I care if they meander back and forth and cause me to stare at the back of their complacent head all day?'

The answer is: I care plenty.

As soon as you get around a pedestrian of this sort, the next is already there, zigging and zagging their way to whatever place they evidently don't feel driven to get to.

Diagram 2

There are those who do not zag, do not zig, and clearly think themselves the very bastions of proper, linear walking. Do not be fooled, for these people are worse than death itself. They are 'Those Who Would Pass, But Lack the Speed.'

It starts off naturally enough, or so it would seem: a person or group of people walking together come up behind another person or group, and move over as if to go around. These people have often been walking directly behind the person in front for minutes, but that doesn't stop them. They suddenly decide 'here's my chance to make a break for it.' The problem? They never make the break. They simply scoot over, take up space, and walk along at the exact same speed.

This still happens in cars, where there are actually laws about passing lanes and requirements to get started. You will frequently find somebody cruising along in the passing lane at excruciatingly slow speeds, often with a mile-long line of cars strung up behind them, the driver of each flinging a well-aimed finger at the occupant of that oblivious first car.

In pedestrian traffic, these oblivious wanderers through life are often even less aware then their motorized counterparts. I frequently have no other option save to dart around these people, looking as though I feel I am suddenly playing some type of contact sport while those around me, frequently the very same people whose rudeness has forced me to stoop to these unseemly measures, look at me as though I am odd.

As soon as they can tell me how my darting around their self-centered clog in order to get on with my day is as rude as slowing people down out of sheer laziness and selfishness, I might rethink my actions.

As it stands, let them stare.

Diagram 3

In our final pedestrian peeve of the day, we look at portals - those largely rectangular keepers of the inside and outside worlds. Sane people have little trouble understanding how to go both in and out of doors. The average pedestrian, far from sane, seems to think of doors as a unique opportunity to take up as much space as possible without gaining any more weight (that will have to wait until they get home, most likely).

By thrusting their way through at as sharp an angle as the door will allow (in double doors, that angle is quite large indeed) only one person can cut off up to six people walking abreast of each other in a single line. Considering how groups of people could be entering and leaving at the same time, and the relative 'functional area' of an average double-doorway, one rude person on a harsh angle can cut off twelve people: three groups of two people going in, and three groups of two going out.

That's a lot of power to anger in just one lazy person, so you can see why they must be subconsciously drawn to this technique.

Final Argument

My theory for why there is such tension between the lazy and the driven is based on 'conflict theory.' We see two seprate, conflicting sets of values between those who meander slowly, not caring how quickly they get where they are going, what path they take to get there, or how many people they get in the way of while they do it, and those who are walking briskly, destination in mind, doing their best to take the shortest (and thus most efficient) path while not getting in anyone's way.

The lazy folk who walk with no awareness of their impact on others want the same thing as the driven folk who want to reach their destination as quickly as possible: the efficiency of the shortest possible path.

The lazy value this efficiency because to take the shortest possible path will save them steps (which burn calories, thus requiring effort) and enable them to focus on what matters to them most - ignoring everything around them while gesturing wildly with the hand not clutching their cellphone to their head, heedless of any people nearby they might be flinging their gesticulating hand into.

For the lazy, by walking at the slowest pace down the most efficient path, they get where they are going with the least effort.

The driven value this efficiency because in their quest to accomplish all of their goals in as effective a manner possible, they have identified the shortest possible path as the one which saves them the most time.

By walking at maximum pace down the shortest possible path, the driven can reach their goals as quickly as possible and move on to what's next.

The self same efficiency is valued between both the lazy and the driven, however this causes driven folks to be constantly thrown up against lazy pedestrians whose rude, selfish manner makes them little more than living obstructions - creating a clash in which the people who value speed and efficiency are slowed down by those who simply value laziness and ease.

There is no 'right' or 'wrong' in this matter, though I have to say that the lazy folks seem to care so little about what they do or where they are going that for them to claim walking in a less selfish manner is somehow disrupting their lives would be a stretch. I have no problem seeing how someone with a place to go being slowed down by rude person after rude person might wish that these individuals be a little more thoughtful about where and how they walk.

Ultimately, that's all we really want of you, oh selfish hordes that throng the skyways and streets of the world - be a little more thoughtful. Please.

Join me next time, where I might talk about my writing. In fact, I'm almost sure of it!


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  2. On my better days, I usually just roll my eyes at these people. (I've grown up, yay!)

    But outside of those days, I can actually growl when people go super slow in front of me, wandering with no clear direction, cutting my path from the furthest lane.. grr.

    Amazing how they seem to think they are the only pedestrian walking the public paths.


  3. Hey Smurf! :) My problem with these people is that I have convinced myself that to spend my half-hour lunch break walking as quickly as possible constitutes 'exercise,' and by making that my daily goal I have somehow 'done my part' in taking care of my body.

    It's just my luck that lunchtime in downtown Minneapolis is also the time people with nothing to do mill about aimlessly. Not their fault, to be sure. But why does it have to be mine? :)

  4. I used to think that trying to walk fast down Oxford Street in London was like trying to drive a Formula One car on a motorway.

    Now I've moved to Swansea its not so bad since the main thoroughfare is a wide pedestrianised one and there's enough weaving-about room.

    Of course there's deep philosophy in your post...but I'm not very deep at the moment, just eating pie n chips in the pub to revitalise my brain!

    Grey Wolf

  5. Ahh, the depth of analysis I have arrived at is only by following the shallowness of petty irritation to its point of origin - I do not seek to repeat such deep thoughts in that manner - it's not recommended.

    :) I am glad you have gotten to a less dense area - feeling like you are in a straight jacket made of people can be one of the most irritating feelings imaginable outside of being the victim of some illegal act.

  6. This is so true!! There are walkways like this in Boston. The one at the airport is especially terrible :p

    Also, that first diagram cracked me up!

  7. Ugh - I am just grateful my daily walkings do not take me near the airport. (The airport here is not really around the downtown areas).

    I realize now how much of the time I spend trying not to get pissed I could be spending thinking about stories.

  8. Had someone walking the street in my little town the other day with 2 sticks, he stopped looking at something in the window, then raised his stick to point it out to his friend. I had to duck! That was my inside track to overtaking him he had violated...

  9. Okay I think I have met my match. ;) I tend to ramble about the most random of topics. Start on one subject and completely change course onto something else. I love that you posted this, makes me feel a little less alone in the rambling world.

    Also, couldn't agree with you more. It's why I choose to only go shopping later at night when there are less people and rarely on weekends because people are always in the way!