Monday, January 2, 2012

Why where we hang out is important

[...] we leave parts of ourselves all around us, which in turn, come to shape who we are.
By Alix Spiegel @NPR
I was listening to NPR Morning Edition this morning, and heard an interesting story about how we are shaped by our own environment.  You can hear the whole segment here.  It was talking about how we can do things without even thinking about it (sort of auto-pilot mode, if you will), and this habit is closely tied to the cues that we get from our own environment.
Say for example, someone lights up a cigarette each time he walks into a building to go to work.  After a while, the building entrance becomes a cue for him to pull out a cigarette and smoke even if he wasn't thinking about smoking.  In order to change the behavior, the researcher's suggestion was to disrupt this automatic response by changing the environment, say instead of smoking with right hand, try using left hand to force the act to become unnatural: sort of breaking it out of normal routine.

While listening to this story, I started thinking about how people unconsciously assign context to a certain place and time.  Monday morning office cubicle has distinctly different feel to it than Friday afternoon office cubicle.  Even if you have lots of work left to do, you get this automatic trigger that says 'weekend is here, time to relax' from years of 5 work day per week schedule.

I think we also assign these context and meaning to virtual spaces on internet.  Think of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace.  People think of them differently and behave differently on those sites.  It's almost like people take on different persona -- a part of him/herself that was kept hidden but brought to open by the context that the site offers -- on these sites.  At least to me, MySpace is a free-spirited music and celebrity network for mostly teens, LinkedIn is business networking job fare sites, Twitter is public plaza where anyone can see what everyone else is doing, and Facebook is personal network of friends and families.

What is really interesting is that the NPR story is telling us that we may be choosing how to act on these sites initially, but soon enough we will be shaped by these social networking sites to behave certain ways, that is to put on a special persona that we share only within that context.

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