Assignment 3: Design Safari
I recently headed out for an evening of bingo with Sheila Roussel, Beth Spowart, and Chloe Henderson. Bingo seemed like a good choice to help us complete our new assignment, as we were to go into an environment with which we were unfamiliar. This worked for me because I have no first-hand experience of bingo, and I certainly had a few preconceived notions about what it would be like!
We decided to meet outside at around 7.15, for the 7.30 game. On the walk there I felt quite nervous, and wondered what to expect. I ended up walking behind a couple of older ladies who looked quite dressed up, and I admit they began to annoy me as they walked quite slowly and spread out over the whole pavement so I couldn’t pass, but it turned out that we were all going to the same place. I made it on time, anyway. I was quite surprised that there weren’t any people outside – my past experiences of being near this building mainly entail having to fight my way through a massive crowd of smokers.
Inside, we were greeted by a small number of steps (and a tiny escalator) and a small but efficient help desk. Sheila explained that she had phoned earlier in the day, and that we really had no idea what we were doing. The assistant then began to get us all registered – filling out forms is never fun, and doing it at a desk in an unfamiliar place when you feel very much in the way of ‘the regulars’ is even less so! But after a bit of faffing, all four of us were registered (I found it strange that the form asks whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker) and the proud new owners of a membership card (printed with our names!), a Mecca dabber, vouchers for online bingo, and a free pass to bring a friend next time. Then we had to buy our books. I was unsure as to what we were actually buying into – the assistant understood that we were new, and recited the basic rules and what our selection of papers actually were, but I didn’t quite catch it all; it was a bit like at the end of TV competitions when a voiceover quickly recites all the terms and conditions.
We made our way to the main hall, through a mini hall full of puggy machines – I found this dark room full of bright flashing lights a bit disorientating! However, it did incite a bit of excitement at the prospect of winning something. The main hall is very big, and at full capacity I imagine it can get very noisy. The seats are arranged in sections and colour coded to make it easier for staff to locate winners. We had to instantly jump into action – almost as soon as we sat down, numbers were being called. And it didn’t stop. Bingo is much more fast-paced than I’d expected.
The hall wasn’t very busy, but there was quite a wide variety of people – I’d mostly expected to see the “little old lady” stereotype, but a decent number of patrons were young people. There were a couple of groups of 20-something friends, and at least two couples who looked to be in their early twenties. I wondered why they were there: had they been introduced by older family members or friends, or (like myself) as part of a project? Was it a common night out for them, and do they like going places or doing things where there’s no time to talk to each other? Were they there in the hopes of winning some money to fund a further night out? It surprised me a little that the younger patrons appeared to be regulars, and that they knew what they were doing and seemed very comfortable in the bingo hall environment. Most people were either alone or sitting in pairs, although there were a few groups of three or four. Many of the regulars appeared to know the staff by name.
I noted a few common behaviours, scanning the room when I felt confident enough to look away from my books. If people were talking, they were doing it in very hushed tones. Was this to do with issues of privacy, or so as not to distract from the caller? Everyone kept their membership cards close to hand, which I think probably enforced everyone’s sense of belonging; I think this also showed that most people expected (at least a little bit) to win, and thought to have their membership card within easy reach so as to get their winnings registered as quickly as possible – of course this is also an issue of politeness, because you don’t want to keep everyone waiting for the rest of the game while you rummage in your handbag! Another common behaviour I noticed here, as well as other public places I’ve been recently (Edinburgh zoo, sandwich shops, cafes, cinemas), is that when you’re looking for a seat, you pick one a good distance away from people who are already seated. It happens on buses, in lecture theatres (no class ever fills the front row first and works its way back – the first people in always seem to choose seats somewhere in the middle, and then people fill in around them), everywhere! This happens all the time (I do it too) and I wonder why. Again, is it privacy or personal space issues, or just not wanting to be “that guy”, the weird one who sits too close to people? In lectures do we not want to look “too eager” or like a “teacher’s pet”? Do we think that sitting in the front row will lead us to be chosen to answer questions, to have to speak up in class, which is something everyone always seems to want to avoid? I also noticed that nobody ever congratulated the winners; in fact, after a cry of “House!” (and what happened to “bingo”?), there were many grumbles and sour looks from other players – mostly those who were alone, players who were in pairs or groups looked to each other for some reassurance and relief from the tension of the moment, and laughed it off together. I didn’t expect bingo to be quite so competitive, and I wondered why winning brought out signs of bitterness in other players. Was it because the people who were there alone were very invested in the game? Were they dependent on winning that £20? Did they feel that they deserved a win, that their luck was due to come in, and did they feel somehow cheated? I mean, once you get quick enough to keep up with the pace, bingo is essentially a game of luck. Perhaps simply the fact that someone was there alone and didn’t have that friendly face sitting across from them led them to internalise and exaggerate the feeling of disappointment that not-winning (I don’t think it’s really “losing” because it’s just chance whether the numbers called are going to be in the right place on your page) brings.
I would never have thought to go to bingo if it hadn’t been for this project; it had never been something I’d thought about – it just isn’t something I’ve really ever been introduced to. I had preconceived notions about what I’d find there, and I was mostly wrong. Bourdieu suggests that people don’t tend to put themselves into situations where they don’t know “the rules” – he writes that middle class people tend to be more confident in approaching cultural institutions (museums and art galleries, for example) than working class people, because they have acquired “conceptual skills and social confidence” through their upbringings; basically, they’ve learned what happens there and how to behave. Without dipping into the “class” issue, I agree with this; I believe there’s a bit more to it than just that, but it certainly plays a large part in why people avoid certain experiences and environments. I felt quite uncomfortable during some parts of this outing, because I just didn’t know what was going on, and what was going to happen next; for example, nobody had thought to explain to us what happens if you win, and during a short conversation amongst ourselves it was mentioned how some of us felt we’d be too nervous to shout out if we won, for fear of drawing attention to ourselves and then not knowing what to do about it. I felt something similar in Paris when I visited the Pompidou centre – I worried that I was going through the galleries “too quickly”, because many people stopped and looked at every piece of art for an extended period of time, and there seemed to be an unspoken rule about viewing every piece, and not just walking past things that didn’t instantly catch your interest.
I met with Sheila for a bit of further discussion about our experience, and I feel that this has really helped me to clarify my thoughts. We talked about what we’d originally thought we were going to see in the bingo hall, and why we’d never thought we would be “bingo people”, and if our attitudes had been changed by our experiences. I definitely found that discussing the assignment with someone after having some time to think about it has helped me better relate my findings to what’s said in Understanding Bourdieu, a text we were given to read to help with our experiment in ethnography. This assignment as a whole has also really helped me to understand what ethnography is and why it’s important – observe people in their natural environment so you can understand how their world works; truly understanding your client base will lead you to design meaningful, helpful, useful products and services. Questionnaires and surveys are all well and good, but what people say isn’t always necessarily what they do; we tend to exaggerate our stories to fit the situation we’re in, for example in a conversation with friends “I walked down the road the wrong way until I noticed the door numbers were counting down instead of up” might turn into “I got so lost, I had no idea where I was.” Observation really is key.
Quotes taken from:
Webb, J., Schirato, T., Danaher, G., 2002. Understanding Bourdieu. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.