Monday, August 30, 2010

Moving Objects

About a year and a half ago now, (I can't believe it's been that long) I took a class on spatial theory. At the course's beginning, I remember being smugly confident that it would remain theory, for me, at least. I had a deep seated belief that I was not at all rooted in whatever location I was at, that I remained somewhat aloft from my surroundings. While the course itself belied that... um, belief... to a certain extent, it was fully blown out of the water this weekend, when my roommates and I moved from a house/apartment to a full-blown two-storey + basement townhouse.

Example: the showerhead. At the old apartment, we had a shower that was somewhat... eccentric. To turn off, you needed to twist the handle until it was exactly level. In direct defiance to North American custom, the water got cold if you turned it to the left, and warm if you turned it to the right. But the added twist was that a slight deviation from the level position (off) either towards the left or right got you the extreme version of that temperature, with moderation coming as the angle increased. In other words, if I turned it a little right, the water was scalding, but if I turned it as far as it could go, I got the closest approximation we could muster to a proper warm shower.

After the move, we were perplexed at the state of our shower. No matter what we did, the hot water wouldn't come. Repeated testing eventually led us to the answer: we had been turning the faucet clock wise, and expecting hot water. To put it in the terms of Donald Norman (author of The Design of Everyday Things), our mental perceptions of the faucet's affordance had been transformed by our previous history. To put in my terms, our old environment had programmed us.

Other examples: it's amazing how freeing it feels to actually have storage space. Being able to put your boxes in a spare closet rather than piling up in your room allows you to feel a lot better about owning things. Counterwise, you never realize just how much tupperware you have until you try to jam it into a kitchen with limited cupboard space. But for me, the biggest change is that we now have a basement. I don't know why I'm so attached to the spot. Maybe it's a Freudian yearning for the womb. (No.) Maybe it's an ancestral memory towards caves. (No.) Maybe it's because of childhood, where basement bedrooms signified a separation from my parents and a move towards personal freedom. (...Maybe?) Or maybe because the average temperature over the last two months has been in the thirties, our old place wasn't air conditioned, and this is the first time in ages I haven't lived in a human furnace.


You are where you live. Horrible basement trolls included.

Later Days.

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