The man who pushed at doors – a look at pseudo systems.

When I was 14 my family and I holidayed in America. We were in the airport on the return journey heading to the departure gate when we reached a closed door. There was a huge sign saying that an alarm would go off if opened so we stopped and waited. There were a few people also waiting but it did not feel right. We were not at the gate and the time was ticking down.

Eventually, without announcement, my father got up and walked through the door. Alarms went off, and even a warning light. I remember clearly that the nearby guard reached for his gun. I was mortified.

I thought of this yesterday for the first time in years but now I see it entirely differently. You see my father had decided that we needed to be beyond the door and that was where he was going – sign or no sign. Against the potential embarrassment of setting off an alarm, and the admonishment of his teenage son, he had made up his mind.

In Aberdeen where I grew up there are two shopping centres opposite one another. During a busy Saturday there is an almost constant stream of people going between the two but something strange happens. Of the 8 doors on each people are cramming themselves into the 2 or 3 that are open. There is no problem with the other 5 doors, just that the crowd intellect decides that attempting to open them may lead to embarrassment.  I love watching this for longer than I really should. It is human nature personified. The crowd have adopted a pseudo system that is unconsciously unchallenged.  This system is adopted from years of fearing embarrassment from standing out, from failing in front of their peers.  

Given the choice I would sooner push at the closed door.