Thursday, April 17, 2008

Standing on Squares

A few weeks back I and several friends were at the Kennedy Space Center. They have this shuttle simulator deal where they sit you in a "shuttle" and then they use some interesting tricks to simulate acceleration, rocket vibration, and other such things. It was a terrific experience and I recommend everyone try it. Before we entered the shuttle we had to wait in a hall until the group ahead of us had gone through the video briefing. The briefing was also very well done. It was a little strange though. They had big plasma monitors mounted to robotic arms that moved around while the presentation went on. I'm not sure how or why, but it added to the excitement. Other effects were there for realism. Anyway, go see it for yourself. That's not what this post is about.

Here's the scenario: we're standing in the hallway waiting to go into the briefing room. The door opens and the first people start to walk in. It's an interesting room in the first place, as I've described, but the most interesting thing was a series of squares on the floor. They were clearly outlined square frames that were flush with the floor, about shoulder's width, and carefully organized in columns and rows. The first people immediately found a square to stand in. Of course the squares in the back filled up immediately. As more people came in, it became apparent that there were not enough squares for everyone and people began to hurry a little to ensure they could get a square. Mind you, nobody had mentioned the squares before we walked in.

I was in the middle of the group when I walked in. Immediately I saw everyone standing in their squares in perfect rows facing the monitors. My first reaction was "welcome to 1984, we must conform because Big Brother is watching!" I was pretty sure that the squares didn't mean anything and when I walked in there was still probably enough squares to go around. So I stood there in the middle gabbing away. Then I noticed that more and more people were coming in and there wasn't going to be enough squares for everyone. Then I thought maybe I missed something and we are supposed to stand on the squares. Maybe the number of squares equaled the number of people that can go on the simulator. How the hell was I supposed to know! Damn it! I knew better, but I hurried over to a square. Of course, I was right all along and they didn't matter one bit! Before the video briefing started every square had someone standing in it and a bunch of people without squares standing in the back. Just out of spite I stood to the right of my square, but it was futile. I'd already succumb to their treachery!

I see huge implementation in the little social experiment. If humans can be tricked to conform so easily, what other methods could be used to produce that sort of unforced group behavior? Hell, Pavlov had a harder time with his dogs than NASA did with us humans! If I ever get the opportunity to design a room where this could be appropriate, I'm definitely going to. I should mention that immediately before entering the simulator there were lines on the floor with dots on them. Everybody stood on those too. It was pretty obvious that those pertained to the number of seats in the simulator so I can't really compare the two situations. I don't think that dots would work so well though. The square frames on the floor were the perfect size for a human to stand in. The dots were much too small. I'd also think that the square shape would be more likely to cause that reaction. Maybe it is something about the straight lines running parallel and perpendicular to the monitors. I'm not sure. All I know is I felt used…

And now a deep thought…

If we can broadcast crystal clear FM radio, radio transmissions from the moon, and cell phones that work anywhere in the world, why the hell does our campus weather alert PA system sound like shit?

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