Tag Archives: Anthropology

Aversion to sitting in front

It fascinates me that, at least in many situations, people seem extremely averse to sitting at the front of a room.

This only seems explicable to me as a conditioned behavior, acquired during school years when they and their peers wanted to sit as far as possible from the front of the classroom, in order to evade the teacher calling on them.

If I’m correct, then this behavior’s persistence throughout adulthood is confounding in multiple ways.

  1. Even in school, did it actually succeed? I wonder. I suspect that teachers might say no, of course not, I’m just as likely to call on a student in the back of the room as one sitting up front. Statistical analysis might reveal otherwise—but I don’t know, perhaps it would not.
  2. At all events, it does not really make sense to continue this behavior as adults. Since graduating college, I may have been in a few situations where a presenter called upon members of the audience who weren’t volunteering for interaction. But these have been vanishingly rare. It doesn’t really happen. There is no need to continue hiding in the back of the room!
  3. Yet people do this even when they are at meetings voluntarily—and presumably wanted to hear at least some of the program. It happens even at meetings when there are nearly endless questions for the speaker, presumably reversing the underlying logic of seating and making the front of the room the first place to fill up.

So many people spend their lives trying to sit as close to the back of the room as possible, though. Does anyone besides me even think about it? Is it just entirely subconscious? What is the deal?

Work, productivity, status, affinity

Last month’s flap over Amazon putting even its white collar workers through the mill struck me as mostly a non-event. Anyone truly shocked to discover that Amazon is exploitative, or that corporations squeeze the Eloi as well as the Morlocks, hasn’t been paying attention.

The week of pearl-clutching by Guardian columnists, et al., has however suggested to me one or two possible new connections in my evolving theory of 21st century work. At the moment, I write mainly to trace these out for myself, so fair warning that this post will be a bit elliptical.

As brief background, I’ve grown quite cynical about the modern economy and particularly the white-collar office. Years of close association with sales and marketing activities are probably an influence, but I have reached the conclusion that a lot of what happens in the typical office is largely pointless theater producing minimal if any social value. I have written before that many of the affluent, in particular, seem to work mostly as a display of status. (See Quantum Whatever, currently print-only but free copies remain available.) I don’t think this behavior is exclusive to the affluent, however, particularly as they tend to exercise much influence on the patterns of the typical workplace.

Seeing yet another bit of puffing about brutal conditions at Amazon has suggested a further insight into this concept. It occurs to me that a culture of status based on competitive displays of exhausting toil could have a deep biological foundation.

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