Matt Peperell's Blog

On recognising people face-to-face vs online

Written: 02 Dec 2021 (Index by date)

Tags: anthropology  (Index by tag)

Like much of those in systems/development and sys/dev-adjacent roles (and many other industries, for that matter), I’ve been working from home for the vast majority of the past 2 years. I have only occasionally travelled in to either the office or to client sites.

During this time, my employer has grown from 80ish employees to 130ish employees. Some people I’ve not met in person. And for a long time, this included my (then) delivery manager. During the summer she ran an in-person general knowledge quiz and seeing her from afar in the office that day I at first I didn’t recognise her. It made me think; we take different cues based on the context in which we encounter people.

On camera, though people have facial expressions, features such as body language, build, and height are camouflaged. But in-person we do get these cues, plus, perhaps a person’s gait.

I’m reminded also of a time when I still drove and was living in Manchester. I was driving to a place that I’d only ever walked to, though had done so many times. On my first time driving there, I missed the turning. Again, this comes down to the cues. When driving, one tends to think about which lane to be in, how wide or tight to take a turn, etc. When walking one might notice the house with a broken fence, the bush that overhangs the pavement, or where the texture of the pavement changes etc.

I’m not a sociologist or pyschologist but I’d be interested to read people’s thoughts on this, and whether any studies or theses have been written on the topic of context-based cues and recollection. The pandemic has shut down much of the world (to varying degrees) but it has raised a number of curiosities such as this.

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