Sunday, October 30, 2011

The perils of good Rediquette

In the year-and-a-half I've been frequenting Redbox kiosks, I've had time to develop a series of rules of etiquette that relate to this narrow corner of our collective social contract.

You might call it "Rediquette."

Unlike a video store, where multiple customers can have access to the inventory at the same time, the Redbox kiosk forces you to take turns.

Now, according to the selfish behavioral assumptions of most Americans, when it's your turn, you can take as much time as you damn please. It's your God-given right. We see this mindset in people refusing to relinquish their parking space while fussing around with inconsequential tasks around their car, and with pedestrians who actually slow down once they enter the crosswalk.

I like to think of myself as above these selfish behavioral laws. I try to lubricate our collective interpersonal reactions whenever possible, and Redbox is no exception to that.

Of course, sometimes it gets me in trouble, like Thursday night.

Thursday night, I was heading up to a friend's house to watch a movie. I'd be picking up a movie -- ideally a BluRay -- on my way there, and the plan was for me to text him some choices when I was in the video store.

However, I wasn't going to a video store per se. My idea was to swing by a Redbox kiosk and hope to find a half-dozen palatable choices among its offerings.

But then the Rediquette kicked in. Not once, but twice.

Let's back up a second and talk more about this Rediquette. All the rules of Rediquette basically come down to not wasting another person's time. The most obvious example is when you have no business to transact other than returning a rental. A Redbox return is about the simplest transaction you can imagine -- there's no reason it should take longer than 15 seconds. You just need to hit the button on the screen that says Return, then insert your movie when prompted. The only thing that might elongate the experience is if you've oriented the disc wrong within the case, meaning that the kiosk can't read the bar code to verify your return. But that tacks on another 15 seconds at most.

Problem is, if someone is at the kiosk, hemming and hawing and going through the screens for the third time, you're stuck waiting for them to finish -- even if you just have a 15-second transaction to complete.

Unless that someone is me. I'm not saying I don't sometimes hem and haw at a Redbox kiosk, but if I am involved in an extended hem-haw, and see someone approaching, disc in hand, I'll ask them if they're only returning. If they are, I let them go ahead of me. If they're also going to pick a movie, they have to wait. Seems like a good system, sure to put a smile on the face of someone who never expected to receive that kind of deference (and probably wouldn't give it if the roles were reversed).

Okay, that's a lot of preamble to finally get us to the events of Thursday night.

So Thursday night I pulled into the 7-11 parking lot just after another car, containing two men -- possibly a father and a son. They got to their parking spot first, but I got out of the car first. It seemed pretty clear that they were heading to the Redbox kiosk, but I was in a position to get there before them. It was an ambiguous enough situation that I wanted to avoid seeming rude by jumping ahead of them, even though any dispassionate analysis of the situation would say I had a perfect right to go first.

So I erred on the side of politeness and magnanimously gave them the floor, on one condition: "Do you already know what you want?" I was already running late, and I didn't want to get stuck behind an extended hem-haw. I was also pretty sure they did know, since I heard the word "Transformers" pass their lips as they walked up. Besides, I myself didn't know what I wanted, so I didn't want to subject them to the very same hem-haw I was trying to avoid. (Nor did I want to speed through my options with the added pressure of people waiting for me to finish.)

They finished up their business pretty quickly, meaning my Rediquette had paid off. It was exactly a situation like this for which I devised the rules of Rediquette, and it pleased me to see such social efficiency in action.

So then it was my turn, and I went through the first ten screens of choices, composing to my friend a text of the movies I thought either of us might want to see. For the record, they included Captain America, Attack the Block, the aforementioned Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Your Highness, Cedar Rapids and Hall Pass (the last of which I've already seen, but loved).

Of course, I still had to send the text and get his response, and at this point, another pair -- a man and a woman -- had sidled up to the kiosk.

Rediquette had worked for me the first time, so why not a second time?

I stepped aside and told them they could go, and awaited my friend's response.

It came pretty quickly, actually, and I was pleased to see him identify Attack the Block as the movie that he also wanted to see most. I'd been thinking about Attack the Block all day, and would have asked him about that movie only, except I didn't want to unduly bias him.

In a way, I wish his response hadn't come so quickly, because now I was ready, and the pair I'd let go ahead of me were -- you guessed it -- hemming and hawing.

It wasn't the worst hem-haw I've ever seen, not by a long shot. In fact, they picked out two movies in probably under two minutes. Not too bad, all told.

Except that one of the movies they picked up was the last copy of Attack the Block.


I cursed my stupidity. I didn't realize what had happened at first, and couldn't believe I couldn't find the movie I'd just seen there a moment ago. I decided to search alphabetically, and here it was that I saw the Attack the Block image faded to a dull gray -- meaning they usually had a copy in stock, but not right now. "Reserve online next time to make sure your movie is here!" a chirpy little message told me.


There are only so many movies they can stuff into a Redbox kiosk, so at any given time, you are in real peril of losing the one you want. In trying to engage in a social nicety, I'd lost the only movie on that list we were both excited about seeing. My friend had texted me that any of the other choices would be fine, but I sensed he was just being agreeable.

I guess there's a reason the average person is selfish, and looks out for his/her own interests first. When you don't, occasionally, you get screwed.

Epilogue: I just went to the next closest Redbox kiosk, at a 7-11 about a mile away, and rented Attack the Block there instead.

But still.

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