Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Closeness, proxemics, and graphics

In my last post I mentioned that Nick Morgan had discussed the significance of the following four types of spaces or distances:

Public space - greater than 12 feet
Social space - 4 to 12 feet
Personal space - 1.5 to 4 feet
Intimate space - less than 1.5 feet

I drew a figure with a series of concentric squares to illustrate the relative sizes of those spaces. Squares made more sense to me than circles, because rooms typically are rectangular.

At first I missed something in the definition for those spaces. When I looked further I found that they actually were like radiuses, not diameters. A practical person would expect diameters, which is how one measures and orders bolts or drill bits.

The technical term for talking about closeness is proxemics. Edward T. Hall, a cultural anthropologist, came up with it to describe the study of distances between people as they interact. He died at age 95 in July. You can read his obituary here in the New York Times.

The figure shows a series of personal reaction bubbles as illustrated by WebHamster for the Wikipedia article on proxemics. A recent article about personal space by Alan Rapp discusses the concept further and also mentions a 1969 book by Robert Sommer, Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design.

The Wikipedia article has a more complicated description of those distances that divides each of them into near and far phases:

Public distance (used for public speaking)
Far phase – greater than 25 feet
Near phase – 12 to 25 feet

Social distance (for interactions among acquaintances)
Far phase – 7 to 12 feet
Near phase – 4 to 7 feet

Personal distance (for interactions among good friends or family members)
Far phase – 2.5 to 4 feet
Near phase – 1.5 to 2.5 feet

Intimate distance (for embracing, touching, or whispering)
Far phase – 0.5 to 1.5 feet
Near phase – less than 0.5 feet

I gave up on making a figure incorporating both the near and far phases, because it started to look almost like an archery target. You can see why Dr. Morgan avoided discussing the near and far phases.

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