The association between space & activity

When you dance on the street, it is crazy. When you dance on the dance-floor it’s okay. When you eat food in bed it’s crazy, when you eat food in the dinner-room it’s fine. When you exercise at work it’s crazy, when you exercise at the gym it’s fine. With these examples, it seems like doing activities in places that aren’t designed/used for that activity, it is considered wrong. If we follow this logic; you should only dance on the dance-floor, you should only have dinner in the dinner-room, or exercise at the gym. It seems like we argue (quite often) that certain activities are only allowed in the designated areas (like smoking). You compartmentalize people’s activities with an associated area. This reminds me an awful lot of discrimination (remember Rosa Parks). Why couldn’t we just dance in the streets, have our dinner at the living room, or exercise at the office? In this blog, I will talk about the issue of thinking in compartments (aka discrimination). With discrimination I mean the “recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another”. When I talk about discrimination, I do not imply direct links with the discrimination of races and genders but you might find some similarities. For now, I rather use the word “compartment” to make the examples more clear.

Space & activity
In the examples above, we could already recognize how often we have places associated with activities. You often go to certain places to do an activity, but its not always the case that the activity is dependent on that place. For example, you could dance everywhere; at home, on the streets or even at work, a dance-floor is not required for this activity. But there are also certain places that are conditional for the activity; you could only go rock climbing at vertical rocks, you can only bowl in a bowling area, or cook on a stove. But even this is even arbitrary, because you could also use some rocks and sticks to play bowling, or cook something on a fire. The more the activity is specified, the more the space needs to be specified for it to be right. To find logic in compartmentalization, you need to adjust both activity and space and make them very specific. Like playing paintball with real paintball-guns and specific rules on a proper area can almost only happen on a “designated” paintball area where they have real guns, identified rules, and a field that is made for paintball. When you think about this, the activity needs to be very specified, and the place as well to make a logical sentence that is really true. I believe that space and activity are not fundamentally related but spaces can be designed to initiate an activity. Moreover, I think that activity should form the space, and not the other way around. From an intrinsic motivation to do something, a space should be formed to make it fit with the inherent activity. If I feel like dancing, I should be able to do what I want, no matter of the place “fits” with it. There should be no place that allows me to do only do one activity. I think I should be able to do whatever I want at any given place.

The places we need
So for an intrinsic minded person, a space should confirm with their activity. Intrinsic minded people have an activity and need a place that fits with it. The first thing you could do as a person, is to pick spaces where you can perform this activity. If you want to chop wood, you should go to a wood workshop, when you want to write, you should go to a place where they have desks and pen and paper. But if you were a building-manager, how would you know what your employees need?  The only way to find out, is to ask your employees; “what spaces do you need?” If they are able to give you an answer, you know they are intrinsically motivated, or they exclusively associate their job-activities with certain places. For example, a scientist might think he needs a computer to make up ideas because he thinks that computers are necessary for ideas, even though this might not be the case. If employees have no preference it is quite likely that the spaces of your building have formed the activities they are doing today. You could drop an inventor in a wood-workshop or at a computer, and his outcomes will be completely different. So anyone who manages places, like a building manager, interior designer, town- or country planner, should know that places form the things what your inhabitants will do, and adapting your places towards the needs of your inhabitants will result in a better fit. Moreover, changing the spaces towards a place what challenges/stimulates the activities of your inhabitants can even change/improve your inhabitants activities and outcomes. But information exchange would be the first step towards this direction. Inhabitants can share information that will change the spaces, or “place managers” could share information, and change places that will change the inhabitants.

The assets of a place
But a place is more than a coordinate. In our mind, places have assets associated with them. An office contains computers, a kitchen a stove, and a living room a couch. But this is also not true. These prejudices are another form of compartmentalization on a different level. Rooms shouldn’t always be like they “supposed to be”. An office might contain a ball pit, a kitchen might contain a bonfire if it accords to the activities the inhabitants want or need to do in it. Either way, our minds should be free to perform the things we want to do and not be restricted by the actual space. At least for your own home this is largely true; you are the God of your house, and you can do everything with it what you desire. A hot-tub with a dinner table in it? A TV in the ceiling of your bedroom? An entire floor of mattresses in your bedroom? Everything what you desire is possible. But here I need to note that the social norms like “only cooking in the kitchen” have also often a sensible reasons, e.g. hygiëne or safety. In organizations, towns, or countries, the balance between places and activities is more difficult because there are many perspectives within an organization. Usually, the manager has some need for activities at these places, so he makes designated places. Through this, inhabitants are constraints within their activities. Nonetheless, to make both sides (the managers and the inhabitants) flourish, mutual adaptation through information exchange is necessary.

The deviation from the normal initiates risks
But why don’t we do everything we would like to do at any place we like? Well, I would love to skate across the highway, the broad pavement would be very fitting for it. But there are many reasons why I shouldn’t do this. As I mentioned early, many social norms are based on logical hygienic, safety, or efficiency reasoning. It is mainly determined through logically reasoning that we don’t cook in bed, have airports in the city-center, or have sex in the top of the tree. Through logic, social norms have formed which we don’t really think about. That’s why I never thought about having sex in a tree until today (really!). We are used to not doing it. But if we think about them, you could find some “playing area” where you can play with the rules. In open spaces this goes a little bit more difficult, because the social norms are often so embedded within behavior that deviation evokes risks for the individual. If you start to talk in a “designated” silence area, people will be annoyed by you. And when you skate across the highway, the chances are likely that you’ll die. Breaking the social norms often evokes risks for the individual but also for its peers within that area.

Loss of structure when decoupling activity from place
Imagine you see someone dancing in the mall. But you are a “designated dancefloor-dancer”, and you only have ever seen people dancing on the dance-floor; dancing supposed to happen on the dance-floor, and thus nowhere else. So when you see someone dancing at a place where you are supposed to walk normally and shop, this is confusing to you. As a response to the confusion, you might be inclined to find a reasonable argument to prevent this dancing from happening what reduces your confusion, and thus increases your comfort. So you make up reasons why the dancer shouldn’t dance in the mall (and some of them could be very illogical). But often, there is no reasonable threat in activities at a place where the place is not designed for, but still people dislike it. Some people despise people having naps at the office, singing people in public, or cycling people in a (calm) walking path. What I believe is happening in the mind in such a situation, is that when you see “weird/different/strange behavior”, you realize that things don’t need to be the way you think they should be. Things become possible through different ways. This causes confusion, because you then realize that you have always been doing things (normally) which might not be the most efficient or fun way. For you, the behavior was always normal and stable, but suddenly new paths appear and you see multiple options. In the mind the realization of this weird event is a bifurcation, your one path splits in two. A cycle lane fit for cycling, suddenly becomes a place where you can also dance! How weird! The bifurcation in the mind feels like a loss of structure. People who experience this bifurcation are suddenly less certain where to use their designated places for. It can be quite freighting to realize that you can do everything almost everywhere; sleep in the office, have dinner in bed, or scream in a busy area. And thus you could argue that it’s better not to; it’s a loss of structure. People might go crazy when you lose structure, and this is literally what we call crazy. Nevertheless, crazy doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it is just different from normal. Crazy implies have more variations than usual for a given situation, even though some of the variations might not be useful. Crazy can thus be also very inspirational; “How could someone think of something that weird, creative, and innovative?”. Some crazy is needed to innovate and to work a way around the common social norms and activities. Things can be different.

People living in 3018
As treat you can watch the video below. it’s a meme called “people living in 3018”, and the video consists of many example of people who disassociate assets/products/places with activities. Many of them use objects or places for activities that aren’t associated with each other. The people in this video mold their objects and places around their needs. If you watch this video, I encourage you to recognize the confusion, disapproval or disgust of some solutions you encounter when watching the video. These responses are quite natural but not always grounded and depend on your current mind.





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