Self Organizing Systems & Constraints

Waiting for the bus this morning on the corner of Roosevelt and State St, I noticed something strange. People were scattered around the whole bus stop and as soon as the bus open its doors, you had a mob of people trying to force themselves into the one opening. No one knew when to be polite and let women or elderly people go first, because they think someone else with just jump in front of them if they hesitate, so they go.

In fact, except for the blind person that everyone let on first, people showed no concern for others.

This strikes me as interesting, because most people will tell you that is the way it is anywhere a group of people try and access a resource ( the bus door in this case ) without clearly defined constraints telling them other wise ( some sort of marked line, for example ). The strange thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ll illustrate this using the same bus example, but in a different area. When I was in New York last fall, I always noticed long lines of people on street corners at random times of the day. I was really paying attention to them, until I saw a bus pull up. Then, people filed in one at a time. What was amazing was that people stood in the line, even if there wasn’t a bus. If someone walked up to the bus stop, they noticed the line and went directly to the back of the line, without fuss. This was in New York, of all places, where the stereo type of people is that they don’t care about anyone else.

I found this interesting, because it’s common to think that without a clearly defined set of rules governing people, chaos would ensue. However, the opposite usually tends to happen. Often, a group of people impose a dynamic set of constraints on any chaotic group that assembles. People either fall in line and maintain order, or risk some sort of judgment from the group.