Monday, July 06, 2009

Laulupidu - if you really like shoving (a brief study of human herd behaviour)

This weekend I attended the traditional Estonian Song Festival. As other times when I have been at the song- or dance-festivals, it's an amazing experience, partly because of the truly adorable and beautiful traditional costumes, songs etc., but of course also because it's not every day you get to be one of 80 000 people in a crowd watching another 26 000 people in a "choir" (this has to be considered something like a "meta-choir" by then I think).

Actually, Estonians sometimes say it is the world's largest choir, which is pretty far from true. The record is roughly 100 000 in the Indian city of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, and before that there was a 72-year-standing record of 60 000 in Wroclaw, Poland.

For a nerd who don't know much Estonian and who is easily distracted though, it easily turns into an improvised exploration of herd behaviour. Like when I figured I would go exploring for some precious šašlõkk (it took roughly an hour, I dropped half of it but at least I had fun) and it started raining. Obviously I was not the only one to get an uncomfortable panopticon feeling of "where could I escape?" when everyone else pulled on their rain-ponchos. It was even a bit funny how the american girl remarked something about "getting separated in cattle wagons like in the holocaust". Anyway, it all ended when found what seemed like a very determined person to follow in the slipstream of.

As anyone who has played OpenTTD will know, congestion avoidance is more complicated than just enabling huge throughput. The new Lauluväljak bathrooms may according to this have been a clever example of engineering, or a somewhat functional mistake, depending on how you view it - visitors in need were squeezed both in and out through a tiny door just where all sinks were, into a huge space of urinals of which more than 50% were unoccupied.

Similarly, essentially all of the lawn in the slope of the song-festival grounds was full, but still large amounts of people were squeezing themselves into the corridors between sectors, usually to end up standing along the sides (the corridors of course fit only a fraction of the people already sitting on the lawn) or slowly shoving themselves through to the other side - and it's a pretty large area to cross! Some... even had baby-strollers with them.

I can't imagine why not more is done to make this magnificent event into something more comfortable, safe and child-friendly. It's nothing a bunch of MOJO, some admittance estimates and some good guidelines couldn't fix. It pains my nerd heart. The ever-present irony of congestion is of course how throughput radically decreases when a link is overloaded.

Check out my pictures tagged laulupidu, or this excellent slideshow below of interesting public pictures tagged with laulupidu (my friend Steve also has cool pictures on Facebook - here's of the parade too):

(PS. So that patriotic Estonians won't locate and beat me up - I do not actually think crowd control is more fascinating than the Laulupidu, it just makes more sense for me to write about)


Cougar said...

It is not biggest choir ever but difference between Laulupidu and Guiness Record attemts is that Laulupidu is not just one event but after every five years (plus one smaller one between).

Good review anyway with some very interesting links to terms ;-)

Carl-Johan Sveningsson said...

Definitely, and possibly by a change of definition the audience would count as well (though then the Indians would have another 80 k as well). But my point still carry some validity, that because something is overwhelming and we don't know of something greater within a stone-throw distance, we think it must be the greatest in the world. I am not sure, but I would not be surprised if there are reoccuring similar events elsewhere as well.

Thank you so much, it was just a joy for me to actually put all those nutty thoughts in words :-) Glad someone reads them

Joachim said...

Awesome that you noticed the same things as me! I had to wait for roughly 10 mins to dicover the 50% occupancy urinals ;)

If I would have needed again, I would have stumbled into the ethical dilemma wheather it would be have been correct to skip the line and head straight for a free spot. Would it?


Carl-Johan Sveningsson said...

@Joachim, isn't it?! I guess a problem of crowd simulations is that you need a lot of people to actually do it, like the plane emergency exercises, like saying that only those who get out during first 30 s survive, it gets much more realistic :-P

Thing about the suboptimal queues, it was pretty full by the door already, so yes, it would have been unethical to push, the queue was caused by the door clogging, not vice versa.

Kristi said...

What really surprised me was the lack of public transport to the event, and then the way the crowd pushed and shoved to get on the overly crowded buses.

That was really a dampener on what had been a fantastic event.