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Proximity breeds editorial comment

We?re not sure about Indians living in harmony, but we sure don?t have a choice when it comes to living close together.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2006 02:16 IST

In a television interview, Brad Pitt went on and on about the way Indians live “so close together”, in “harmony”. We’re not too sure about the last bit, but Indians sure don’t have a choice when it comes to living close together. So the team of American scientists who have found evidence in a cyber game that the manner in which humans “protect their physical spaces” is replicated in their cyberplay, should have many takers in the Land of (Too) Many. Apparently, people use the same manoeuvres — of distancing, or breaking eye-contact — to push away people from their ‘space’. This behaviour stems from an unwritten code.

Individual space dynamics have been studied for several decades. But proxemics, the study of perceptions of personal space, is gaining ground almost as rapidly as the global population is exploding. Scientists even have numbers for the unspoken rules based on American perceptions. ‘Intimate distance’ is 6 to 18 inches, ‘personal distance’ 18 inches to 4 feet, ‘social distance’ 4 to 12 feet, and ‘public distance’ more than 12 feet. Scientists can thus predict which areas of an elevator are likely to fill up first and which urinal a man will choose. Now we know why Indian men prefer walls.

Online, this would mean that the gamer who jostles back, elbows others out and still seems to live in ‘harmony’ is likely to be Brad Pitt’s Indian. We’ll wait while the ‘proximists’ decide.