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February 02, 2005

Personal Space Paradox


“If you're down and confused
  And you don't remember who you're talking to
  Concentration slips away
  Cause your baby is so far away
  . . .
  Well there's a rose in the fisted glove
  And eagle flies with the dove
  And if you can't be with the one you love honey
  Love the one you're with”

Love the One You're With
Stephen Stills

It’s a real conundrum. Today we can chat instantaneously across the globe, but most of us don’t know our neighbor’s names. We send email's to co-workers in a cube just 20 feet away. Time, space, and distance have taken on totally new meanings and definitions.

Physically I’m a ‘big dog’ – just under 2 meters tall (6’7”). You would think that I would be hard to miss. Yet several times a week, in spite of my best efforts, people on the street literally run right into me. Sometimes this happens even when I’m standing completely still – say, waiting for the bus or a train.

Why? What’s going on? It’s not like I’m a ninja or ghost, or that I’m trying to hide.

The plain and simple truth is that while I am there, the people that run into me aren’t.  Their bodies are. But their minds and their attention isn’t. They are totally focused on their cell phone – living in that world for the moment – totally engrossed in that conversation, or reading an email, or playing a game. It’s their reality, and the physical world has all but completely disappeared from their consciousness. Then, suddenly, they are jolted back into this world when they bump headlong into me. Funny thing is, they are almost always shocked, and sometimes angry at me for disturbing them.

Think I’m joking? Take the time to watch a few strangers talking on the cell phone. It won’t be long before you see that some of them are talking with their hands, waving them in the air, showing their emotions clearly on their faces, acting just as if the person they were talking to was standing right in front of them. At that moment they are occupying a totally different world – a different space/time continuum. Who are they with? The person on the other end of the phone call – not with you. You don’t even exist for them, at least not for the time being. 

February 2, 2005 | Permalink


I'm the same height. Part of the problem is that our heads are not where people expect them to be. A chest doesn't seem to be as visible to people as a face. This is especially so in pubs when trying to get the attention of the bartender.

Posted by: jurgen wolff | Nov 3, 2006 3:40:55 PM

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