Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Becoming a Creature of Habit

It seems that I have fallen into a pattern with a fellow LIRR commuter: He and I always occupy the same seating pattern on the train, and in fact seem to adapt our seating arrangements based on each other's choices. He generally occupies the two-seater in front of the one I claim. For example, if X denotes my fellow camper and I am K, then this is the arrangement we usually have:

Three seater rows
Center Aisle
Two seater rows



Regardless of who boards first, we arrange ourselves so that he has the seat in front of me. There have been instances when I have boarded first and he has adjusted his seat accordingly, moving up or back to fit the pattern. I also find that I look for him as a cut off point in terms of where in the car I want to sit. I have no reason for not wanting to move farther into the car. This commuter just seems to have marked a boundary for me, if you will. This has been going on for approximately two months. We've never spoken to each other, or shared a nod of acknowledgment. We just seem to define our boundaries using each other.

Did you ever have assigned seats in school? Teachers do it because it helps them remember the names of students and instills a sense of order in the classroom. It's nice to know you have a place, right? That you belong? I propose that these methods of organizing train us to recreate secure areas in the public at later stages. For the weekly staff meeting at my job, we all tend to gravitate to the same seats, and if they're not available, then we sit as close as possible to the seat of our preference. Those who aren't lucky enough to secure a position of their choosing fidget more and seem to be more easily distracted. Believe me, I've been there myself. I prefer a seat looking out at the river. I need to know that I'm not trapped in a box, so it's important that I face the window. When I'm late and I have to sit elsewhere, I feel that time drags by. And if I was unable to secure a seat at the table and had to take a peripheral chair, then I don't even really feel as though I'm a meeting participant. Essentially, the assigned seating model trains us to find ways to be comfortable in public by designating certain areas as our own. It helps us exert an influence over public space and claim a portion for ourselves in which we can comfortably transact our business—it teaches us how to cope in less than satisfactory arrangements. Did you ever have to sit near someone you didn't like as a result of your assigned seat? The guy in 10th grade who continually put his feet up on the back of your chair? Perhaps you didn't do anything, or perhaps you tried to trip him one day as he walked by—you should not infer, Reader, that I ever attempted such dirty tactics—whatever you ultimately decided to do, you were forced to develop strategy for managing the situation. [Left: My fellow camper takes his assigned seat.]

I think that my fellow commuter and I utilize our seating arrangements to maintain a sense of familiarity in what is a temporary setting. What strategies do you employ to maintain your sense of comfort? Do you have a favorite seat for meetings or on public transportation? At the library?