Wednesday, November 21, 2012

THE THERMOPYLAE, THE MASADA, THE FORT MCHENRY OF QUIET:  Tim Kreider writes in the NYT about the battles it takes to keep Amtrak's Quiet Car quiet.

[He cites therein the work of philosopher Aaron James, whose new book Assholes: A Theory defines the term in this manner: "A person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people."]


  1. As a misophone, I was with him right up until the thing about the loud typing. Not having been there, I can't be sure, but I'd be willing to bet that he either types with his hands hovering over the home keys as opposed to resting on them, or that he's one of those Smith & Wesson types who has learned to type 80 wpm with two index fingers, shuttling them around at lightning-fast speeds to create loud clacking noises with every attack. Those typists can be extremely annoying, especially when they thwack the space bar or hit a carriage return in triumph.

    Overall, though, I agree. Even with all the gadgets I employ, I find it grotesque the way that people take their liberty to its fullest extent. The rapping on the subway is my least favorite (well, the gum, but that's another thing), because most of the time, them is in fact fighting words, and it's very unsettling out of context. Once, I got a chorus stuck in my head from a song called "That's D-Block," wherein the MC's sought to define the term "D-Block" for all the world, and I spent the next week using it in place of "rough."

    Ana: I can't get this mud off of my shoe.
    Paul: Yeah, that's D-Block.

  2. A friend pointed me here:

  3. Nice. Reminds me of Chris Hardwick's line that the central philosophy of The Twilight Zone can be summed up as the universe saying, "Nice try, asshole."

  4. The Quiet Car is my happy place.

  5. So, this is adjacent to a dilemma we're having in our library. Over the summer we renovated the first floor to provide more seating space, updated computer workstations, etc. Everything was chosen with the idea that it would facilitate group study, something students have repeatedly said that they want more of both on campus in general and in the Main Library in particular. To that end, all the tables are large and meant to be shared. The comfortable seating often takes the form of circular couches, where a conversation would be easy to hold. EVERYthing, except the computer carrels, is on wheels so that students can reconfigure it to meet their needs. We even have whiteboards/partitions on wheels so they can bring the whiteboard to where they're working.

    The problem? The students that ARE using the space tend to be single studiers and want absolute silence. It's quieter than a graveyard now. And I've had more than one student tell me that if they've tried to work with a group, other students have come over and shushed them. The official policy is that it is NOT silent or quiet study space, and therefore, if anybody complained to us about the noise, we'd tell them to cram it. Politely, of course.

    We're now trying to figure out if we should let the silent mob rule or if we should point out to them that there are EIGHT OTHER FLOORS that are designated as quiet/silent study space. The furniture isn't as pretty or as comfortable, but that's not by design, it's because we only had so much money.

    We've even contemplated putting up signs and table tents that tell everybody, THIS IS A TALKING AREA. But it might be futile. So all our efforts at creating the group study space everybody says they want is being thwarted.

  6. Emily1:02 PM

    I agree. I wish airplanes had a Quiet Car. And the subway. And this room I'm working in right now.

  7. I ride NJ Transit every day, and during rush hour the first and last cars of every train are the Quiet Cars. I LOVE the Quiet Cars and always do my best to sit in one of them. And I love conductors who make very clear announcements about the Quiet Cars before the train even leaves the station, and then enforce the rules of the Quiet Cars during the trip.

    Last night I worked late and took a non-rush hour train. The guy across the aisle from me spent a good portion of the trip watching a video on his phone. Without headphones. This was not a Quiet Car, so I didn't actually say anything to him (and in fairness, maybe if I had he would have turned the volume down a bit), but how sad is it that we NEED a Quiet Car for people to be considerate of those around them?

  8. bill.3:51 PM

    Definitely put up signs: GROUP STUDY AREA, CONVERSATIONS ENCOURAGED. Start having quick staff meetings there and chase out the shhers.

  9. Watts3:59 PM

    I've not entirely jokingly suggested we should hire some students as plants to go in there and talk. We ARE moving a librarian back to that area in the next semester. What's hilarious is I'm hoping this means we'll be the anti-shushers. At least I will. If I see one student shushing another student that doesn't deserve it I may just have to assert myself.

    This world is backwards - I'm now a librarian who's shushing the shushers.

  10. Sorry Amy, but sound-proofed rooms in a library are where group study goes. Every other space is the quiet space to me and right now the first floor sounds like paradise, patrolled by people maintaining the lovely quiet. The idea of having group study in the main area of a library is anathema to me.

  11. Watts4:08 PM

    We didn't have enough money to construct sound proof rooms. We kind of thought the OTHER EIGHT FLOORS were sufficient.

    And we were responding to requests in the surveys we've done regularly over the last few years, over and over students said, "We need places to study as a group in the Main Library." We gave them ONE FLOOR. And left the OTHER EIGHT for studying.

  12. Watts4:09 PM

    Also, if we had designed it to be a silent paradise, we would have bought different furniture and laid it out differently.

    What we have now is one student sitting silently at a table designed for six, and groups of six sitting in the cafe area clustered around cafe tables designed for two people.

  13. isaac_spaceman4:51 PM

    Oh, my god, YES. I have never heard of a Quiet Car but now I want to need to take Amtrak just so I can sit there.

  14. As I've told people, if money were no object, on days when I needed to hunker down and just write, I would board the Acela quiet car in DC, ride up to somewhere in Connecticut and back, and work away.

  15. I really think signage is all that is needed, Watts. Shushy-types are generally good readers, amenable to reasonable rules reasonably applied. "QUIET SPACES AVAILABLE FLOORS 2 THROUGH 9; GROUP STUDY, COLLABORATION, AND CONVERSATION ENCOURAGED FLOOR 1" ought to straighten everyone out.

  16. I think I just had the same thing happen with (Is that really) Lenny Kravitz' late-game massacree half-time mini-anthem "Like A Jet"...

    A: Dude you're working this weekend too? You're really getting your ass kicked!
    B: Yup. Like a Jet, dude. Like a Jet.

  17. Marsha12:19 PM

    Yup, this is a sign problem. The other 8 floors get "Quiet study space" signs, and the group study floor gets signs to that effect. We have that in our library for similar reasons - we reconfigured for groups study at student requests. We created some private rooms, but our main reading room is not intended to be quiet space (the Circulation/reference Desk and the offices in earshot of the room would prevent that even if group study didn't). Signs work, not only because people then know what to expect, but also because it gives ammunition to the shushees to use against the shushers.