For the first time ever, I managed to remember to celebrate Towel Day*. And it was a most enlightening experience. I’d prepared for a few laughs, a bit of ridicule, and a few subtle acknowledgements. But apart from my direct reports at the office (who knew in advance what was going on), I encountered nothing but complete indifference. Nobody said a word about the fact that I was carrying a towel around the office. Sure – in some places, it might be natural. The gym, or perhaps the bathrooms. But picking up my lunch in the cafeteria, or arriving in a meeting with a towel nonchalantly slung over a shoulder? Not once did someone say “Er, what’s with the towel?” The only reaction was complete acceptance of it. Which can only mean one of two things – they think that it’s normal, or they didn’t notice the towel at all.
Now, the first option is rather obviously not plausible – not only is this the only day in the year where people adorn themselves suchly, but I was also the only person in the office with a towel. Out of around 350 staff. Doing the maths, that works out to a 1 in 87,500 chance of seeing anyone with a towel on any given workday in a year. Not exactly within the 95% confidence interval of “normality”. Which means that the second option has to be true – the towel was invisible to them. I’m pretty sure that I’ve managed to prove the existence of the SEP field**. It’s the only logical explanation.
Now, you may say that this is just because the British have such good manners, and that they couldn’t bear to mention something like that. It would just not be cricket, know-wha’-I-mean? The quick answer to that is: This is Birmingham, mate. But you would have a point there. And I think that being British is certainly a contributing factor to the generation of an SEP field. The strong, culturally ingrained sense of manners and propriety leads to a much wider definition of what constitutes Somebody Else’s Problem. Or rather, the corollary is true in the first instance – it is the narrow definition of what is My Problem that leads to the inverse being true.
And so, I’m tempted to do a bit more scientific research on this. Specifically, what the borders are of this SEP field, and how easy it is to generate. I’m sure that there’s a lower and an upper boundary. Something close enough to normality will get noticed (wearing a pink shirt with yellow stripes), while something far beyond the realms of expectations will draw comment as well (wearing a Barney the Dinosaur suit). The challenge is to find the area in the middle where there’s just enough of a difference to the standard to render it an SEP.
Anyone wishing to collaborate on this research, or provide any observations you may already have collated, please put in a comment below, and I’ll share all the kudos with you. _______________________________________________________________________________
* Towel Day: a day to carry a towel with you, in memory of Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which describes the towel as “the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”).
** SEP Field: A field rendering something invisible, due to it being Somebody Else’s Problem. As explained in Life, the Universe, and Everything:
An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.
The technology involved in making something properly invisible is so mind-bogglingly complex that 999,999,999 times out of a billion it’s simpler just to take the thing away and do without it……. The “Somebody Else’s Problem field” is much simpler, more effective, and can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery.
This is because it relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain.