Seats Have Needs, Too!

A seat has a purpose! An interview with a seat which hasn’t been sat on for a while would probably go something like this:

Interviewer: How do you feel these days?

Seat: Well, pretty miserable, you know – rather useless and unwanted.

I: What about luggage and bags, you surely had those?

S: Oh, don’t get me started on that one. They scratch my fabric and pinch and poke. People are so inconsiderate these days. I don’t mind a little handbag, but the other day I had a huge travel bag…

I: …considering that you are at an airport…

S: … yeah? What about airport. Look at me! (voice close to screeching now)  I’m a perfectly fine seat and there is nothing nicer than a round soft bum sitting down (almost crying now – must be a female seat) … they just don’t love me (definitely a female).

I: But the other seats must have the same problem.

S (sobbing): Nohoohoo, it’s always meeheehee!

I felt terribly sorry for the seat and hence thought that this matter definitely deserves some attention. So when I was travelling the other day I decided to do a bit of research and it turns out that I might be onto something.

The matter is definitely best to be studied at airports. It happens at trains and doctor’s waiting rooms as well, but it shows most vividly at airports, respectively the gates. Several long rows of seats arranged back to back, with an entry to one end of the room and an exit to the other.

First person to come in is quite likely to take the seat furthest away from the entrance and facing it. Probably torn between the option of being able to see the exit or the entrance, the choice quite likely will be the entrance. Nobody else is there to cover the rest of the room on the lookout for enemies, so better be close to the exit, far away from the entrance and being able to see the whole room. The next seat will be covered with luggage to keep others away.

Second person coming in: Damned, best seat taken already; next best would be opposite end of the room as far away as possible from the other person AND the entry; at least with the benefit of being able to see the exit and the other person. Other person will be able to see danger arising from the entrance and indicate by body language. The next seat will be covered with luggage to keep others away.

Third person is in a pickle, but will most likely chose the seat that halves the distances between the other two, thus somewhere in the middle of the room turning the face towards the person considered least trust worthy from the looks of it. The next seat will be covered with luggage to keep others away. Well, actually person three would love to cover seats to the left and the right, but that would be too rude - so rather sneakily choosing the seat a bit closer to the other two people. That is still bearable, but makes the rest of the area smaller and hence unattractive for newcomers while the luggage is placed towards the front.

And so it goes on, always halving the distance between people, exit or entry under the constraint if somebody nasty would stare at ones neck or somebody trustworthy is facing the other direction to cover the back. Sometimes groups come in. They are braver and cover an area that fits their size best, plus one seat for luggage left and right.

It’s amazing how quickly humans can process this data and find their seat.

Another animal using this sort of behaviour are apes. Well, they usually don’t carry a lot of luggage, and they usually are not found at airports, but there definitely is a ‘cover your back and your exit’ attitude when they choose a location to rest. Having a big tree to lean on is not just comfy, but gives protection.

Hmmm?! The layer of typically human behaviour called civilisation seems to be rather thin if we are still relying on techniques used by our very far ancestors. In restaurants one often finds mirrors around the walls now. That doesn’t only make the room look nice and big, but gives the guest who ended up sitting with the back to the rest of the room a means of observing the same and hence feeling more comfortable.

On my trip I realised that this need for safety and protection must be a very strong one. Despite several ‘empty’ – luggage packed – seats at my gate, a whole lot of people were sitting on the ground lined up along the wall. Not a single person asked for luggage to be removed to free up a place to sit on.

So our poor seat from the interview seems to be one of those naturally unwanted ones. One should advise a move to Asia. I talked to a friend and he said that in some Asian country, if there is only one seat taken in a bus it is rude NOT to take the seat next to it. That should really please our little friend. No empty seats ever.

But why is the behaviour so different? How can it be, that these people are so much more relaxed about being in a crowd?

I can only guess, but their strategy might go along the line: ‘Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer!
Rika's Column

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Copyright 2007
Author: Rika