March 12, 2009

Quiet Please!: College students and library etiquette

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I will attempt to write this column without sounding whiny, hostile or patronizing, but I can’t make any guarantees: It has become painfully obvious to me that our generation’s sense of social decorum is sorely lacking, particularly as it pertains to our behavior in the library, and that someone needs to address it.
I am normally an even-keeled, mild-tempered guy who squirms at the mere prospect of confrontation. Answer your phone in the library, though, and I become someone else, a passive-aggressive form of the Hulk. But without the form-shifting. Or the green coloration. OK, I just become passive-aggressive. Still, it’s a frightening passive-aggressive — scornful stares, loud tongue-clicks, deep exhalations — and it seems to happen nearly every time I’m in the library. In fact, as I write this article from the reading room in Uris, the girl sitting next to me is listening to reggaeton at an absurd volume (I can hear each obnoxious upbeat and a rapper yelling in Spanish), and has thus incurred all of my passive-aggressive rage.
Still, I can’t say what it is exactly that irritates me so deeply about people answering their phones, texting incessantly, conversing obnoxiously or acting otherwise distractive in the library. Part of it, I would proffer, has to do with my upbringing. My dad, a man cut from the Larry David mold, not only has no problem with confrontation, but actually thrives off of it. As a result, I became accustomed growing up to my dad haranguing people in public places, mostly for being too loud. One time, when I was in high school, my dad and I were at a Sting concert when he asked two especially vocal fans in the row in front of us (who may or may not have pounded six-packs in the parking lot before the show) if they could keep their voices down. During the concert. They gaped at him, incredulous, and flipped him off.
Though I behave nothing like my dad, I am equally sensitive to monitoring people’s behavior in public places, which creates an unbearable predicament, since it means that I, unlike my dad, must suffer quietly. So, for the benefit of my fellow etiquette freaks, I am going to highlight the three most irritating breaches of public etiquette that occur in the library, in the hopes of eradicating such conduct altogether.
1. Cell phone conversations: The cell phone is undoubtedly the biggest enabler of rude behavior in the library. And while most people are considerate and self-aware enough to step outside to take their calls, there are a select few who, for whatever baffling reason, think it perfectly acceptable to carry on full conversations from their desks. Like that grad student who conducted for his wife, and all those on the main floor of Olin, a ten-minute course on how to find and open his car’s gas nozzle (pull the lever below the main panel, push the cap down and twist). Absolutely shameless.
2. Actual Conversation: The most egregious behavior, but also the rarest, probably because most people realize just how egregious it is. I’m not talking about polite exchanges here, but rather full-blown conversations. Again, these don’t happen often, but spend enough time in the library and people, normally girls carrying Greek-letter bags, will eventually start talking at length to each other. Popular subjects include blacking out, getting shitfaced and discussing whether the former, the latter or both were accomplished the previous night.
3. Just being plain obnoxious: This is obviously an umbrella term, but it can be made to include all kinds of etiquette violations. For example, the guy who feels compelled to pound his keyboard like a concert pianist when he types. Or the girl who puts her phone on vibrate — out of courtesy, of course — so that her text messages, arriving by the minute, don’t disturb the other students.
Obviously, this is only a cursory list. There are many more violations to cover. But for the time being, please do hold yourself to task on avoiding the behavior mentioned above — listen for tongue-clicks, check for abnormal breathing, scan your surroundings to make sure no one is staring you down. And, of course, remember that there is always at least one etiquette-obsessed nut nearby whom you are probably driving insane.