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January 21, 2010 / TildeWill

Get Your Freak On

I’m in the middle of “reading” Freakonomics. I say “reading” because I’m actually listening to it on my iPhone. Anyway, the thing is interesting because it kind of gets your brain going in new ways. I find it mildly unsettling in the way the author speaks with such authority about statistics that few others have read the same way. What I do like about it most is that it gives me insight to my fellow man, and reaffirms my pre-existing belief that people are capable of being understood.

Today’s social experiment stems from a norm I’ve long been aware of: People [in the US] walk on the right side of the path. It must stem from the driving laws. I notice that foreigners tend to break this mold more frequently than non-foreigners. What I observed today was this: Coming out of the Powell Street station there are two escalators and a stair case that link to street level. walking from the station, you would first encounter the up escalator, then the down escalator, then the stairs. Today, the up escalator was barricaded off for maintenance, leaving only the down escalator and the stairs for use. The down escalator was also stopped in this case.

To me, the up escalator, the one on the right, is out of service, so I would expect to have to walk farther and use the stairs. But since the scenario had reduced the layout to essentially two stair cases, people were using them just so, as if the up escalator didn’t exist. People were walking down the stairs (on the right to them) and people were walking up the now stopped down escalator (on the right to those people).

I want to know how we learned to walk on the right and why that lesson is so strongly carried out. I also want to know why my gut instinct differed from the masses, and why I caved in and reluctantly walked up the down escalator like everyone else.

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