I have devoted a lot of time to standing in the security lines in various airports. Usually, I am trying to multitask with something else happening on my phone. A terrible impediment to this multitasking is that the airport line keeps moving. Every time the person in front of me walks forward three steps, I have to pick up my belongings and do the same. I’m in favor of the line moving over not moving, but it would be much better if I could wait until there was ten feet of space, and then bulk-process walking forward in one go. This arrangement would also seem to be better for everyone in the line behind me, who are in roughly the same situation. So why don’t I do it?
I at least imagine social pressure to continue walking forward. If I try waiting a bit longer than usual, I at least imagine that the people behind me are getting kind of restless and thinking I’m a bad line-member, and will soon do something analogous to honking their horns at a driver who isn’t driving at a green light, or simply walk around me. Because the thing I would be doing would look superficially a bit like stopping people from getting to the front of the line as soon as possible. So far, I haven’t actually tried it, probably because it sounds too uncomfortable.
Perhaps I am imagining all of this. Why would the people behind me care? This change would seem to be neutral to good for all of them. Well, maybe not for the person right behind me. I can imagine the person right behind me caring is because IF it were bad for me to hold up the line, it would be her job to be restless about it at me. And whether or not she cares, she imagines that the people behind her might. Or, she expects me to expect that other people care, and so interprets me as making a social transgression that should rightly be noted, whether or not the consequences are good.
So roughly, I expect maybe everyone feels badly toward me for doing this, because they think the thing I’m doing is antisocial, even though it would immediately make everyone’s lives better. This might seem like an uninteresting window into my own ability to overthink standing in a line, but I think it is more interesting for two reasons. One is that even if I am weird in this way, it is a nice vivid example of a human having overwhelming hesitation to do a thing that seems both selfishly and socially beneficial for fear of secondary social punishment largely from people who would benefit. Which I expect should happen, game theoretically, so it is neat to see sometimes in the wild.
The other reason is that I have never seen anybody else do this thing which seems both selfishly and socially beneficial, suggesting that something is stopping them (or I have judged the consequences wrongly). That others too perceive holding up the line as antisocial in spite of its consequences being good is my best guess about what. And if it is what is going on with other people, it would be a much better example of people getting stuck in an obviously bad for everyone equilibrium for fear of social retribution.