Guilty: reading while on jury duty

Apr 12, 2013
Have you ever beensummonedfor jury duty? Today marks my second day of my first ever jury duty service. I’m one of 600,000 New Yorkers who serve annually, “invoking my right as a citizen” as Diane Sawyer says so astutely in the introductory video they make all potential jurors watch. I’m learning a lot here, like the basic ins and outs of the judicial system, that lawyers are typically late, and that you can sue someone for pretty much anything these days. I’ll be honest, when I got the summons one month ago, my heart sank a little. I’ve heard jury duty horror stories, am reluctant to miss work, and unfortunately, impatience is a fault of mine. Most of what I’ve heard about jury duty is that it’s a lot of waiting around. And since my arrival yesterday, everything—from the signage to the speeches they give you to the frequent delays—confirms this. Here, time is at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts (what time is lunch? When do we get released? How many breaks can we take?). I think it’s no coincidence that the clock on the wall is gigantic and happens to have a resounding tick.This past day and a half have been so strange and so interesting. I’d go on, but the court system operates around Las Vegas rules—what happens here, stays here. Upon telling colleagues, friends and family that I would be going to jury duty, the top response was, “bring a good book”.Luckily, I did. I decided to combat my sinking feeling head-on and embrace my civic duty to the fullest—I brought Sandra Day O’Connor’s new bookOut Of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. I also brought my laptop, but they usher you into so many different rooms, have rules about when you can and can’t use technology, and make announcements about every four minutes, so any attempt at accomplishing serious work was futile. As I opened up my book yesterday morning, I looked around me to see what my fellow potential jurors were reading. To myastonishment, very few people were reading.There were 67 people in the room (yes, I did the math. I had a lot of time of my hands). Of the 67, three people were reading print books, including me. Three. That’s 4.47%. Six of the 67 had iPads or tablets, one person was reading a newspaper, and one person was reading a magazine. The other 56? They were either staring into space, on their phones, chatting with neighbors, or milling about. I kept tabs on people’s behavior for the rest of the day, and as time wore on, even less people were reading. Cliques had formed. People were swappingstrategies (“say you have a bias against pedestrians”, “tell them you have restless leg syndrome”), opting to talk with these strangers-turned-comrades. I wondered, why aren’t more people reading? One reason might be the aforementioned focus on time. What better way to kill time than to read a book? Well, maybe not. While there is a lot of waiting around, the environment is not exactly conducive to engrossing oneself in a book. Just the anxiety over being selected is enough to make a person lose their focus. And unless you brought your own reading material, you were out of luck. The clerk in charge offered us fodder to pass the time, pointing to a sad-looking stack of women’s magazines from the late 1990s and one withered newspaper. He blamed budget cuts for the lack of reading material, and given the fact that the television looked like something left in a junkyard, I believed him. He even asked people to donate their papers or magazines to the pile once they were read, but given the fact that exactly two people brought a newspaper or magazine, that pile wasn’t growing any bigger. So, here I am, about to dive back into Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. Maybe if I’m here long enough, I’ll finish it and donate it to the needy communal pile. Though it might come off as eerily ironic to whomever picks it up. image via SalFalko