Backpack Etiquette

Apr 17 2014, 3:13pm CDT | by

I have been itching to write this blog for months, but have always held back because, as a business communications blog, it may be slightly off-target — that is, not strictly pertaining to business.  However, the issue of sensitivity to others in the public domain affects all of us, in every aspect of our lives:  professional, social and personal.  That said, since one very important aspect of business is networking, we need to be conscious of who we are “bumping into.”

With that rationalization, I have decided to scratch this itch!

My topic today is the physical impact of backpacks on others.  Backpacks are a fact of life – among students, in particular, but also among the younger set in business, right up through the Millennials and beyond.

Backpackers are often carrying a heavy load, and shoulders can provide maximum support for “heavy lifting.”  But people who use backpacks tend to forget that they have this “boulder on their shoulder,” which in crowded public places, tends to bump those behind them in the face or chest.  These accidental, unexpected blows leave the unfortunate victim considering retaliation of some kind, like cursing or shoving the person responsible.

In fact, most of the time, the backpack-swinging malefactor has no idea that you are angry — unless you complain — because they are oblivious to what has happened.  If you say something to alert them to the debacle, most look back at you with a puzzled face.

As a business commuter, there are several ways one can get hit by backpacks: 1) You are standing behind a backpacker and he/she decides to take a few steps backwards, thereby pushing your chest; 2) You are seated and a shorter backpacker’s back is level with your face; he does a 180⁰ turn, thereby giving you a “face-swiping,” without ever knowing he had touched you; and 3) You are in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, and the backpacker, by the very extension on the back, makes your already confined personal space even tighter, particularly if pointy objects in the backpack are sticking you!

So what do we do about all this?  What should we be teaching backpackers?  Fundamentally, most are unaware of their impact on others; therefore, sensitivity training is in order.  Second, their ability to sense their distance from others is important to avoid “hitting” people.  Recognizing that one backpack in the crowd can hurt someone may require you to ask the person near you if they would be willing to remove it.  Is this an affront?  It should be considered polite – like asking someone not to smoke in your presence – today considered acceptable but once considered impolite.  The sensitivities and decisions about which actions to take are not very complex – they relate to awareness and common courtesy.

Some manufacturer of backpacks could stand out by running a series called “Backpackers’ Etiquette.”  That would no doubt be a welcome brand differentiator.


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