Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sociology and the subway

I've stumbled onto what's turning out to be an interesting experiment in sociology: what happens on the subway when you're standing and use a cane? I've been taking the subway to work much more frequently, having grown impatient with the morning traffic. And so twice a day I get on the train -- the E, F, or V. It is rare to find a seat right away. Sometimes someone gets up right away, and it's as likely to be a woman as a man. Sometimes no one gets up, and I watch people studiously ignore me. Two days ago the experiment got even more interesting -- someone joined my experiment and added the element of shame. A man came over to me -- also standing -- and asked me in a voice louder than it needed to be how far I was going and was I trying to get a seat. As he talked to me he looked at the able-bodied people seated closest to us, and they buried themselves in whatever they were doing as though they wanted to sink into the train floor. But no one moved. A pregnant woman was standing next to me and no one moved for her either. Right now I'd say it's about 50/50. Half the time someone yields their seat to me, and half the time I stand the entire time. When I'm feeling charitable I count it as part of the experiment. When I'm feeling less charitable one thought consumes me: "I hope this person shows up at my shop for a job interview."

Starting next week I'm going to start taking note of the demographics of the people who yield so there's some data to enrich my experiment.

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