“It sounds cliché,” says Sam Gosling, a personality researcher at the University of Texas, and author of the book Snoop, which observes the behavioral footprints people leave behind, “but the more research I’ve done, the more I’ve come to believe that what’s going on outside the mind reflects what’s going on inside the mind.”
As I sit in my cubicle, I can’t help but wonder about the different personalities that inhabit the space that surrounds me. I’m close with my team of five but the lives of the other members of my agency’s ecosystem elude and enamor me.
There’s Rick, market researcher, age 28, whose spiky black hair I can just barely see the tip of over my dull brown wall topper. He hides a steal grey skater helmet in his top drawer. Under his desk, there appears to be a tricolored princess nightlight and his daughter’s missing Ring Pop.
Sam, project manager, age 31, has a tub of peanut butter in the bag she always leaves at work. Her once white, now grass stained, Converse shoes keep being moved in and out of her trash receptacle. A handful of wedding invitations are stacked neatly behind her monitor.
Across from me is Annie. She has numerous rock posters taped in place with Barney purple duck tape. But what I find intriguing is the picture of an old terrier taped to the side of her file cabinet facing her legs beneath the desk. Annie also has a dog bed whose view is partially obscured by her modern office chair. I’ve never seen a dog.
Roman, the PR guy, has dusty pictures of presumably his wife and kids. The background of his monitor is almost always hidden, but once, I caught a glimpse of Saint Petersburg hiding behind an email.
I wonder about these objects. I know each has meaning to their owner and I can’t help but wish I knew their stories. I see Sam remove her Converse from the trash, yet again, and make a commitment to myself. I will branch out across what feels like miles but is really only a few centimeters of distance between her and my cubicle wall. I will learn her story, their stories, stepping out of the world of observation and into one of meaning.
“Every time we hang a poster on a wall, toss a cup of coffee in the trash or download an album from iTunes, we leave cues about who we are,” Gosling says, “And although we may attempt to arrange our stuff to outfox others, our true personalities inevitably leak out.”