Imagine it’s a Wednesday night, 8 PM. You’ve managed to forget your phone today and you don’t have a computer on you either. This is most unfortunate because your friend REALLY needs to find you. She has news that absolutely cannot wait. But since she can’t ask you directly and no one else seems to know where you are, the only option is for your friend to find you in person. Where does she start the hunt? Does she get it right on the first try, or does she have to check out several places before she comes across you? And how would her guesses be different on a Saturday at 2 PM or a Monday at 6 PM?
Funny as it may sound, sometimes I like to do a reality check by thinking about where others would expect to find me. This game started back in high school when I had extracurricular meetings almost every day at lunch (it was common at my school, I promise). If a friend wanted to find me during lunch he’d have to know that Monday meant Mock Trial whereas Tuesday meant dance. I started to wonder what that meant about my identity within the school. If you asked an acquaintance, where would they say was the best place to look for me? Was I defined by where I spent my lunches or by the social group I hung out with on the weekends? And within the realm of extracurriculars, which one did people see as the absolute most definitive characteristic of my personality? How would people classify me if they had to throw me into some sort of category?
We use categories to break the world around us into smaller, easier-to-process bits of related information. But details go missing in the end since categories can only describe so much before they become over-specified and useless. Asking yourself where others would look for you touches on how people perceive you and what they think is important to you. When I think about my own friends, my guesses for where they would be tend to revolve around activities I know they enjoy or the houses of people who are meaningful in their lives. Give it a go. Think about the people in your life and where you would look for them if you had to do so. Then ask yourself where they would look for you. Do you think they would get it right, or have to try a few places? If you think it would take them a few tries… I guess you should always remember your cell phone!