The Light Side: Should Door-Holding Etiquette Go Out of Style?

An Incognito Mode for Real Life
Comedian Suffers Fallout from Cab Prank
Duke Researchers Create a 3D Sonic Cloak


Scholars of anthropology will note that door-holding was once a social obligation. Chivalrous men who opened and held doors for women hoped to be seen in a more attractive light. In a show of manners, holding the door for others meant that you were brought up properly. But over the years, door-holding etiquette has devolved, some would attest.

The modern world has taken some swings at door-holding etiquette. Gender equality, texting, headphones, the hyper rush to get somewhere, and short attention spans are just some things that have turned door-holders into self-absorbed slammers.

But maybe it was one of an infinite number of extenuating circumstances that caused a door to shut in your face: the lady was in a bad mood, that guy might’ve been in a hurry to go to the bathroom, that rude gal really just had her hands full. Lots of maybes. Then there’s the $64,000 question: Did he feel I was just a tad out of reach for him to keep the door open?

Indeed, one satirist created a Facebook page: “You don’t want to be rude … When is a person close enough that you must hold the door?” Two guys from Utah offered up a video commentary about those who take door-holding politeness a little too far. Another attempted to be helpful with this infographic defining the “courtesy zone” and the “awkward zone.” The distance separating these zones, by the way, has been arbitrarily determined to be 5 feet.

Without rigidly defined international standards, who knows?

The Gothamist blog thinks we should just make it easy on ourselves and kill off door-holding altogether. “There are a lot of manners to be kept in check at every turn of the corner, but one that we could do without is holding the door open. [L]et’s be honest … it’s weird when someone holds the door open when you’re too far away. Maybe you aren’t even going in to that door, or maybe you want to go at your own pace.” The Gothamist doesn’t hot-step it for anybody.

Blogger Heather Stocks Pixley would vehemently disagree. She plays the gender card, suggesting a compromise of the sexes. “I personally am advocating for men to step back up and be the person who opens and holds the door,” she wrote. “In general, you’re bigger than us. Doors are heavy. Opening a heavy door while wearing heels is super-awkward. So, if you want us to make our legs look nice by wearing heels, you best get a move on.”

Madeleine Kunin — yes, that Madeleine Kunin, the former Vermont governor and ambassador to Switzerland — had a heartfelt opinion on the matter. She pontificated on Huffington Post of a need to return to good old-fashioned manners. Kunin attested, “I’m not talking about male chivalry. This is about gender-neutral manners. It’s about making a split-second decision whether to connect with another person — to acknowledge their existence.”

Scientists would to tell you to keep the door open because if enough people do it, the chances of someone holding the door for you goes up and everyone’s collective effort in opening doors decreases. Researchers Joseph Santamaria and David Rosenbaum noted in Psychological Science some insightful social norms with door-holding, as reported by Psychology Today’s Dr. Art Markman:

Interestingly … a single person person walking behind speeds up more than a pair of people walking behind. It is almost as though when one person holds a door for a second, both parties need to share equally in minimizing effort. When one person holds the door for a group behind them, the door holder’s effort is outweighed by the effort of the group walking behind.

Of course, there are certain situations where holding the door is a must. You don’t want to be a jerk or a snoot when someone behind you is running for the door, carrying heavy boxes, or obviously infirm. But if you insist on the “give none, expect none” rule, you have a pick of two places to live, Norway or Sweden, where they don’t hold the doors at all.

An Incognito Mode for Real Life

If you’re trying avoid someone like the plague, there’s now an app for that.

An “antisocial” app called Cloak has hit the App Store, and an Android version shouldn’t be far behind. Cloak enables a person avoid that unspecial someone by mining location data from other social media apps. In essence, Cloak keeps tabs on people you know by following their Instagram and Foursquare geo-tags, check-ins, and posts and then alerting you if that ex-boyfriend is coming ’round that corner. It also works for those times when you don’t feel like seeing anyone.

Cloak screenshotIronically, antisocialites have to play a little pretend and be online friends and followers with the people they’d rather not bump into in order for Cloak to work. And they have to enable their own geo-location data and services on their mobile devices and be on Foursquare and Instagram.

It is a novel and paradoxical twist on the notion of data privacy to uphold “IRL” (in real life) privacy. But Cloak’s creators, Brian Moore and Chris Baker — who probably have had a few awkward moments on the street to inspire their app — told Motherboard that there is no invasion of privacy issue because people are already sharing that information. “People are actively posting anything and everything to social networks with nary a care in the world,” they said. “All Cloak does is take that social media behavior and offer a little IRL privacy.’

The creators stressed that Cloak neither collects any user data nor sells or distributes information, which are lined out in Cloak’s ironic privacy policy. “Your phone is using your friends’ Instagram and Foursquare data. So that data lives locally … we here at Cloak are not seeing it,” they said. Moore and Baker are counting on a lot of people to give up a little of their social media privacy to preserve the sanctity of their offline lives.

Comedian Suffers Fallout from Cab Prank

Jokesters and YouTube are a match made in heaven, bringing the world laughs by the bushel at the expense of the unsuspecting. “Prankvertising” has even become a cottage industry, as The Light Side has been following recently. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), however, is having none of it.

For using a NYC taxi to scare passengers with his pet python in the viral smash “Snakes in a Cab,” stand-up comedian Jimmy Failla (not Fallon) had his taxi license suspended by the TLC. “This was monumentally poor judgment on the driver’s part,” said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, in scolding Failla for his snaky, er, sneaky deed, as told by the New York Post.

Failla, a former taxi driver, rented a cab from one of his old contacts for his mischievous ploy. In a real-life homage to the cult movie Snakes on a Plane, Failla then installed a hidden video camera to record the terrified reactions of people he picked up after he let loose his pet snake into the backseat. Getting into a NYC cab already requires some suspension of fear, but the 14-foot python’s presence caused one panicked woman to yell, “What kind of cab is this?”

It certainly wasn’t the one where you answer trivia questions correctly to win money.

Ironically, Failla tried to avoid trouble with the TLC by not running the meter during any of pranks. But the commission wasn’t about to be snake-charmed. And, luckily for him, none of his passengers filed complaints. He isn’t upset with the suspended license, as he is focusing on comedy. “I don’t care,” he said bluntly.

But just in case his career as a comic doesn’t pan out, Failla will be eligible to drive a cab again in 2016, after his suspension ends.

Duke Researchers Create a 3D Sonic Cloak

In a recent paper published in Nature, materials researchers at Duke University have debuted a 3D acoustic cloak that can reroute sound waves — making both the cloak and anything beneath appear to vanish.

Created using a 3D printer, the Duke cloak leverages repeated patterns of plastics and air to create a metamaterial with the unnatural property of making sound appear to disappear.

As sound waves approach the multitiered, pyramid-shaped plastic cloak, carefully patterned holes reroute sound in such a manner that the cloak provides acoustic invisibility while also blending with the surrounding environment, rendering it completely undetectable.

“The structure that we built might look really simple,” said Steven Cummer, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke. “But I promise you that it’s a lot more difficult and interesting than it looks. We put a lot of energy into calculating how sound waves would interact with it. We didn’t come up with this overnight.”

In the future, acoustic cloaks could be used to upgrade the stealth capabilities of a vehicle or improve the acoustics of a symphony hall. However they’re used, though, I will always be impressed by 3D acoustic cloaks because they can hide something in it that actually exists, which to me is pretty awesome.

This article by Kyle Maxey was originally published on Engineering.com and is adapted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit Engineering.com.

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