Friday, 16 March 2007

Space between us

Everytime I use the elevator at work its always so quiet inside. It’s like the box of silence or something.

One would think that if you get ten or so people in there, a few would strike a conversation and you'd get some chatter going on. But you don't! In fact, the elevator has the opposite effect. If a couple of workmates are talking outside and they hop inside the elevator, they would soon stop talking and stare into elevator level indicator like everyone else. In silence!

When I was a kid and I spoke to my parents in a crowded elevator they wouldn't answer me. It’s as if I didn't exist. Its as if some voodoo magic worked inside the metal box and only when you step out will it be dispelled.

In the odd occasion that I do get someone talking in the elevator, I get quite annoyed and pestered by their talking. Hello? I'm not interested in what you're putting in your caldereta! I can hear everything you're saying! I wonder how some people can be so thick skinned.

Must have been cows in there past life or something.

When one speaks of personal space one would think this.

Personal space is in fact a region that surrounds your body. Like an air bubble that you carry around with you. Its your claimed territory with a specific radius and it determines your relation to others. If someone in fact breaches his or her allowable space you subconsciously realise that something is wrong and you instinctively prepare for it. Naturally, welcomed intrusions are okay, but when strangers start space invading, negative emotions are thrown in the mix.

Now there are four different kind of spaces (see the stolen picture from Wikipedia)

There’s public space. This is a nice big distance that we'd like to put ourselves in when we are speaking to a group of people. Anything less than this and we'd feel like we were shouting at someone too closely.

Inside this is the social space which extends from about one to three metres away from you. That’s about the kind of distance you'd want to keep your boss at when talking to them work. Any closer and they'd be intruding your personal space that can lead to some a messy sexual harassment case.

If someone is standing in your personal space, you can still exercise some tolerance for it, but you're definitely aware of his or her presence. In the elevator scenario, although you're all staring at the indicator incrementing with the elevator ascent, you get a burning sensation that someone's watching you. So you remain quiet and composed.

What you sense is probably not just the elevator surveillance, but the other guy next to you who's also sensing that you've invaded his personal space.

Now the intimate space is pretty damn close. Its also the bad-breath strike zone. Intrusion in this zone induces physiological changes like raise in heart rate and start of an adrenaline reaction. To have someone that close means you're either being naughty and kinky with them :P or your physically abusing each other in a fight ;(

The funny thing is that these spaces are culturally defined. In western countries personal spaces are quite wide. That’s probably why their cars are so big. Asian countries on the other hand - like getting REALLY personal - borderlining intimate. And everyone is okay with that!

That’s why you probably won't find too many westerners comfortably riding jeepneys.
This spacial awareness probably explains why two guys using a public toilet will always choose the opposite ends of a urinal. And why all the window seats in a bus get occupied first before strangers start sitting next to each other. We want our personal spaces free of weirdos and strangers.

It also explains why I got irritated when I was in a train ride in Hong Kong. This guy stood so close I could taste his char siew lunch from his breath.

Yuck. It was salty.

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