Frank Lloyd Wrong

Tucson, Arizona (10/4/1971)


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Abdicating to Anarchy
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I have noticed a strange decision, or lack of a decision, in certain private spaces, that may serve as a metaphor, or a guide for modern thinking in society at large. It has to do with the self-checkout layout in modern stores. It has to do with the ruleset surrounding the lines. Basically, the stores have abdicated to anarchy. It's interesting. Someone had to do calculations or test a model, or possibly watch hours of video to come up with this idea. When there is a new way of doing things, there must be a ruleset to go along with it. If there's a new lane for "High Occupancy Vehicles" on the highway, then a new ruleset must be constructed to go along with it. And that means there will be unexpected interpretations of the new ruleset.

And this happened in the self-checkout. The stores had a choice. They could establish a ruleset and make it obvious and unavoidable, or they could say, "Anything goes!" And they consciously chose "Anything goes!" And I think I know why. If you establish a ruleset, by say, posting a sign that says, "LINE FOR ALL CHECKSTANDS FORMS HERE" then you are inviting unexpected interpretations, and further, you are expecting angry customers to come to YOU for resolution of the unexpected interpretations. For instance... Say someone stands in the line when it is short, their place comes up, they walk over to the open self-checkout stand, start the process and then, "Oops! I forgot a few things!" Ha ha! What a forgetful Sally you are! So, they walk away and get five or six things. Where does one draw the line? The same "accidents" cause problems at "counter serve" restaurants. Well, not accidents... The same thing happens when you go to a "counter serve" restaurant.

Let's say there's one group in front and three open tables when you walk into a "counter serve" restaurant. You stand in line, get a menu and wait. Then the people in front of you are, of course, taking their merry time ordering. And another group walks in. They see a bunch of people standing in line, and what do they do? They walk over to one of the three open tables and put down their coats and purses and shit and then get in line behind you. Well... it's no big deal. There are still two open tables, and at the rate the assholes in front of you are ordering, some other table will probably leave before you sit down anyway. And then another group comes in and sees an even bigger line and pulls the same stunt as the group directly behind your group... coats and tables in an open booth. Now, you are screwed.

And what happens? You end up sitting outside or something. You sit down at a table that just cleared out and someone who works at the restaurant gets all huffy at your group for making unnecessary work. But it's NOT YOUR FAULT. It's the fault of the assholes who came in after you and put their shit down. If they hadn't done that then you would have sat at an open table and the table that you are now sitting at would have been cleared while they ordered. But they had to fuck shit up.

Same sort of thing back at the grocery store with someone standing in line, getting the self-checkout and then running off to actually do their shopping. I haven't seen that happen, actually, but I am sure it does. The point is this: When the establishment doesn't use signs or other explicit indicators to demonstrate what behavior is expected, people will do whatever the fuck they want to do. People might do whatever the fuck they want to do even when signs and other behavioral cues are in place in any case. So no matter what happens, when things get busy, there will be conflict.

Here's the rub: If the establishment makes rules, when people find "exceptions" that happen to favor them (and some people are experts at finding "emergencies" and "exceptions" that give them priority) then the people they are fucking over, the people behind them in line will blame the establishment. But if the establishment makes no attempt at establishing a ruleset, then people will blame the violator. And hold the establishment blameless. And this is happening often in places where rulesets should be strict. The establishments, by abdicating to anarchy, are shifting the responsibility onto the customers to come up with techniques and strategies to insure fair access. It's a really shitty thing to do. Now in addition to checking out and paying for your crap, you have to negotiate a complicated set of behaviors with strangers with absolutely no cues or behavioral standards.

I didn't make it clear... the main conflict is... Let's say there are six checkout stands. Are there six lines, one for each checkstand? Are there two lines, one for the checkstands on the right, and one for the checkstands on the left? Or is there one line for all six? You go and stand there in the middle, but if you are off to one side or the other, then some guy behind you looks at the situation, and sees that one of the customers on the right group of three is about to be done, and this guy... this asshole... decides, because at this moment it favors him, that the "rule" is two lines, one for each group of three checkstands. And he comes up and stands to your side. What do you do? What can you do? He knows he's being an asshole. And you know for good and goddamn sure that if you did the same thing to him, he would suddenly decide that the rule is, "one line for all six checkstands."

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