Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You [A Review]
Is it possible to know what someone is like simply by looking at their stuff? I’ve learned quite a bit about that very distinct possibility after reading Dr. Sam Gosling’s book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You . From organizational habits, to the music they listen to, to the posters and pictures they hang on the wall (and how those pictures are hung), you can learn a lot about someone’s goals, their personality, and even their hopes and dreams.
The foundation for this science of snooping is based upon the “Big 5” personality traits, commonly referred to as the “OCEAN.” These are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Wikipedia has an excellent article laying out what exactly the “OCEAN” is all about and what the exact properties of each of the 5 traits are.
When we think of stereotypes, we think of judging people based on their appearances. Dr. Gosling teaches us in this book that we are constantly using stereotypes to judge our surroundings and that, in general, stereotypes are a good thing. If we didn’t use stereotypes, every experience we had would be brand new.
In chapter 7, “In Defense of Stereotypes,” he says…
Imagine you are walking along a path in the jungle and you hear the roar of a tiger. You turn and, behind a nearby bush, you see the tail of the tiger. Although you have yet to see the whole beast, it’s a good bet that you’re in danger of encountering a tiger, not a hitherto undiscovered species of shrew with the tail and roar of a tiger. You would be wise to make a run for it, or do whatever you are supposed to do when encountering a tiger (although, of course, if it really was a tiger-tailed shrew you might have just missed the biological find of the century). The example shows that we use stereotypes to fill in the gaps when we are unable to gather all the information. And most everyday opportunities for perception are riddled with gaps. If you didn’t use stereotypes, you would be overwhelmed, because every item, person, and experience in life would have to be treated as though it were a totally new experience, not part of a broader class.
Gosling tells us that music is also a huge part of what defines us. More specifically, there are certain types of music for which, if you notice CD from particular genres laying around someone’s apartment, will be more indicative of someone’s personality, religious or political views.
For example, Gosling says that studies have shown that Contemporary Religious, Country and Classical music are fairly accurate at determining personality as compared with Soul, Pop and Rap.
Gosling also provides some interesting data charts involving what music people listen to and the drug preferences they have, what values they hold, physical characteristics and more.
I don’t want to give away too much about Dr. Gosling’s book, so I’ll just briefly touch on some other points made throughout.
Dr. Gosling talks a lot about people’s personality traits and how these traits are reflected in their living spaces. They leave a “residue” behind. Is this person disorganized? Conscientious? An active person? Are they trying to deceive you with the appearance of their living quarters?
He talks about things such as personal webpages, email signatures, blogs, etc. These things can say a lot about a person. He also touches on the fact that in some cases, facial features can say something about the person (the “snoopee”).
A big part of people’s lives, Dr. Gosling says, are what he calls their “feeling regulators.” Objects they keep around themselves to remind themselves of past accomplishments, family or loved ones, famous people, idols, etc. These serve as motivation, calming elements or any other type of way to regulate feelings.
Homes Built To Fit Your Personality
In the final chapter of this book, Dr. Gosling talks of how an architect by the name of Chris Travis builds homes to suit the inhabitant’s personality. He calls the process of determining the layout of the new home the “Truehome Method.” A very unique idea, and ironic, because much of what Travis had been doing with architecture was right in line with the research that Dr. Gosling was discovering with his “snooping.” People with different personalities, and especially among couples, have different spacial wants and needs.
When I visited Travis and looked at some of the plans he had created for his client’s houses, I quickly saw how his understanding of the functions of a living space differs from that of a conventional architect. One plan was stretched out on a long table. Whereas a conventional architect might use labels such as family room, back porch, and master bedroom, Travis’s labels denote the feelings each space must evoke for the home’s owners.
Dr. Sam Gosling’s book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You is a great read. Not only does it show how you can learn a lot about others just by looking at their stuff, but you can learn a lot about yourself in the same way. You can be your own “snoopee.”
What does your workspace look like? Is your desk a mess? Does it look like no one has ever used it? Do you have pictures hanging on the walls or on the desk? Which way do they face? Toward you, or toward your vistors? Your stuff says a lot about you.