This post has been on my mind for a long time. I always put it off thinking that I need to understand this a bit more before I write about it, but I have now decided to keep this as sort of a live post. I will develop on this or post afresh as I learn more.
I have always had an interest in interactions. I love meeting people and making new friends. I dream of designing spaces that encourage interactions.
A few observations about interactions…
· I remember I had a big fight with half the bus on a trip to Mysore. It was as if they had all united against me in the fight. What was awesome was after the fight died down, people, strangers seated next to each other, started talking to each other. They were mostly bitching about me at first but later they started to talk about other things too.
· I remember, back in the defence, we had tambola (similar to Bingo) nights on Saturdays. A lot of times, interactions started at these parties. Say 2 people win the full house together, people on adjacent tables ask each other about the numbers that have been called out already, people calling ‘bogie’ when someone claimed they had got a required combination.
· Yves Behar spoke about the NYC Condom project in his TED talk. He spoke about how the condom dispensers became a centre of curiosity and created interactions among people, breaking a sort of taboo.
· These days I’m attending a course called the Landmark forum and I have come to observe how people there meet each other once and then every other time greet each very warmly. This is similar to the experience I had in Mumbai when I used to volunteer with the Chinmaya Mission for their annual Shivratri celebrations; there was a sort of camaraderie that got built up between fellow volunteers. Even complete strangers greeted each other very warmly.
· Outside my office building, there is a sort of a parapet, people often sit and wait for each other for lunch etc… they end up meeting and talking to a lot of other colleagues in the process.
· We all know about the water cooler example which is quoted so often in management discussions.
· Mumbai local trains… folks meet up or sometimes just see each other regularly in the train because they take the same train everyday to and from work. They end up talking to each other, holding seats for each other etc.. oh there are a few groups who sing devotional songs together every day in trains on the way back from work as a form of meditation I guess.
· Sports are an obvious example.
· Oh! And an interesting one for singles, Salsa classes encourage a lot of interations 😉
Observations about the lack of interactions…
· Cubicles… I have observed, here at Infosys, people sitting next to each other for months and not talking much to each other. This is usually the case when the people sitting together aren’t on the same projects. I believe the cubicle design of 4 people facing 4 corners also plays a part in this.
· Bus rides back from office…. somehow people don’t talk to each other even though my guess is that a lot of them take the same bus everyday. Most people have their headphones on or are reading.
· Short duration bus or air travel doesn’t encourages as much interaction as long duration train travel. There might be more to it than just the duration.
The concept of conversational affordances…
I attended a talk by Dr. Murli Nagasundaram at USID2009 where he spoke about designing for conversations. He said different places have different conversational affordances. To illustrate he spoke about how typically on a train journey (in India) you end up talking to your neighbours. He also said the kind of conversations that the train environment affords are very different from the kind you would have say in a coffee shop, even with the same people.
The cultural aspect…
I understand how there is also a strong cultural angle to it. In some cultures striking conversations with strangers is OK, while in others it isn’t.
I’m sure there is more and all of us have had these experiences. I’d be very happy to hear about yours.