Monday, September 29th, 2008...9:35 pm

dense/close: observations regarding proximity

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Just as a heads up, I in no way claim to be well versed on cultural differences.  I am solely speaking from my own experience.  If you have insight or are aware of research regarding my thoughts here, feel free to call me out or send it my way, I’d be more than happy to read.

I’ve noticed something interesting about how the culture in Shanghai utilizes space in regards to density and proximity.

To begin, I am continually noticing how the media here is very dense.  Advertisements are completely filled with words, colors, and images. Web pages tend to be completely jam packed with information.  A few examples, check out the web page for a popular online game:  Also, take a look at tudou, a popular Chinese video site:  Both exhibit a density of information that most westerners find uncomfortable and difficult to visually parse.

The ability to comfortable parse large amounts of characters, text, and images close together perhaps may be some way linked to the concise and condensed nature of written characters.  Reading Chinese requires the ability to differentiate subtle differences in characters that occupy very small areas and are packed close together.  My theory is acquiring the skills to the written characters could condition people to be able to consume dense information effectively.  From product packaging to architecture, I have observed that design in almost all arenas exhibits a predilection for density far greater than its western equivalent.

The second aspect I have become aware of is the treatment of personal space.  In line with the media density, personal space is also much closer than in Western culture.  Easily three times as many people get into elevators here then would be comfortable in the US.  When speaking to friends and coworkers the standard distance between people is about half what to which I am conditioned. The same theme is apparent everywhere in social situations involving many people.  Sitting at booths, walking on the street, moving through queues.  Things here are all very close together.


  • Agreed that things are more dense in Shanghai ;).

  • I think the density of information also has to do with the way in which new media and the internet emerged in some parts of Asia. In the US we had a slow acclimation to many forms of advertisement, as well as to the rise of the internet. In Asia it pretty much happened over night. I remember from my time in Indonesia that Internet cafes (the only real viable form of internet over there until recently) went from rare anomalies that you had to seek out, to existing on every street corner… This happened pretty much overnight. Same goes for the public advertisement sector… I would imagine that a forced adjustment to parsing new media led naturally to a denser distribution of this information.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jared. I hadn’t considered the influence that the speed of consumption contributed to it’s proliferation. Instead of a trickle it was like a dam burst.

    In considering your comment another thought occurred to me. If the community in Asia was indeed instantly saturated with media and information as you suggest, they may not have had time to develop the built-in filters that we take for granted. Due to prolonged and slowly increasing exposure, we in the west have built up a greater skepticism and resistance to media. This has likely contributed to keeping it somewhat in check. For example, people may complain if we put up a 1o story Gucci ad on their apartment in the US. This is because advertising is seen as somewhat unsightly and sinister by many. This may not be the case in Asia where that tolerance is not culturally endowed due to it’s recent and rampant growth. Perhaps the media is dense because advertisers met with less community resistance to putting up ads. Moreover, it is likely (and have heard this confirmed within a few advertising related sectors here) that Asia is a better marketing audience to target because people actually pay attention to advertisement.

    Just another thought to throw onto the pile =)

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