Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Holding Doors Open

Via Crescat Sententia, I find this hilarious post by a pseudonymous law student who looks for ways to create efficiency in every-day life:
I have a disturbing obsession with efficiency when performing everyday tasks. When driving, I turn corners faster than is comfortable to avoid slowing the traffic behind me. If I'm dispensing a fountain drink, you're certain to find me standing as far to the left or right as possible so as to avoid blocking anyone else who might be able to pour their drink at the same time. As the above examples suggest, most of my behavior in this area is trivial, requires positive effort on my behalf, and goes completely unnoticed.
Perhaps the reason I found this so funny is that I've often done the exact same things.

The law student goes on, however, to address a more interesting point: Is it efficient to hold open doors for other people? Not to put too fine a point on it, should men hold open doors for women? The law student argues that holding doors open is so inefficient that it is equivalent to mass murder. (I.e., someone who holds a door open for someone else might waste 5 seconds while the other person gains only two seconds; take that 3 seconds wasted, multiply by all the times people hold doors open, and divide by the average number of seconds in a man's life. You get the picture.)

I wonder what this law student would think of a practice common in a building where I used to work. At the elevator banks, there would often be several men and women standing around waiting to go up. When an elevator arrived, the men would usually make an elaborate show of stepping aside the let the women enter the elevator first. Then, if several people were due to get off at the same floor, the men would stand akimbo, put their hands out, hold the elevator door from closing, and let the women out first.

It seemed like a horribly inefficient practice -- much more so than holding open regular doors. At least when one holds open a regular door for a woman, the woman gets to go through first, thereby gaining time and distance on her journey. But when one holds open an elevator door so that the woman can get on first, she doesn't get anywhere more quickly. She's still on the same elevator. In fact, the process of waiting for her to get on first probably wasted everyone's time. And then, because she got on first, the woman is now jammed into the back of the elevator, making it more inconvenient for her to get off at her floor.

Now, when the elevator arrives at a floor (or at ground level) where several people are getting off, it might be at least theoretically true that letting the woman get off first allows her to arrive at her destination more quickly. But this is usually false. In order to let the woman off the elevator first, all the men would have to squirm around for several seconds in order to clear a path for the woman to exit (she was jammed in the back of the elevator, you recall).

So, what we have here seems to be the precise opposite of a Pareto-efficient practice: It makes everyone worse off without benefiting anyone. That's why I myself never engaged in this practice, particularly as to exiting the elevator. I'm 6'4" and 235 pounds, which means I take up a lot of space. I always figured that if I was standing towards the front of the elevator as it traveled, the kindest and most efficient thing I could do was to exit the elevator quickly, rather than blocking everyone's way by trying to allow a woman at the back to exit first.


Blogger imadork8 said...

This is pretty funny that someone actually spent time calculating the amount of time lost/gained by being polite. I would say to hold the door for someone and make sure you say "Thank you" to the person that held it for you. Because if you dont, you may get hit with a nasty "You're Welcome!"

Like This Guy -

12:04 PM  

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