Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Walk on by

There's a topic I've been meaning to cover for about two years now. And every time I decide to write about it, something comes up, goes down, or otherwise gets in the way. I'm jinxed.

It's a simple little thing: how we walk.

Now mostly this isn't something we think about much. If strolling down the street required cogitation at every step, there would be even more couch potatoes in the world. But there's a lot to find interesting...

An example. Next time you walk down a street, try to imagine that you're encased in a big solid sphere, like those Zorb balls. Convince yourself that the ball is rock solid - no-one can get through it to bump into you. Visualise the people around you rebounding from the ball if they try to push too close.

What you'll find is that you can walk straight at someone and they will always get out of your way. This is really kinda cool. And it doesn't seem to be anything to do with physical size or intimidation - I've seen tiny women pull this trick on burly blokes.

On close examination, it turns out that the "simple" act of walking past someone is actually quite complicated. As you approach a person, you use a range of subtle cues to plan a route round them, based on the direction you think they're going to head in.

The most important of these is probably foot position - your feet tend to point in the direction you're planning to go, and other people will pick up on this. If you really want to confuse someone, try walking past them on their left while keeping your feet pointed towards their right. Chances are good that they'll walk into you.

That's why the Zorb ball trick works. When you visualise being surrounded by an impenetrable force field, your feet point straight forward regardless of who is in your way. Everyone else unconsciously notices this and walks around you.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

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