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First sunny saturday since quite a while. A public garden in Paris. From a balloon.

Like gravity, the influence of two bodies on each other is inversely proportional not only to the square of their distance but possibly even the cube of the distance between them.

Edward T. Hall, anthropologist and father of proxemics

Communications scholars began studying personal space and people’s perception of it decades ago, in a field known as proxemics. But with the population of the world climbing above 6 billion, urban corridors becoming denser and people with wealth searching for new ways to separate themselves from the masses, interest in the issue of personal space — that invisible force field around your body — is intensifying. Humans tend to avert eye gaze if they feel someone is standing too close. They retreat to corners, put distance between themselves and strangers, and sit or stand equidistant from one another like birds on a wire.

According to scientists, personal space involves not only the invisible bubble around the body, but all the senses. People may feel their space is being violated when they experience an unwelcome sound, scent or stare: the woman on the bus squawking into her cellphone, the co-worker in the adjacent cubicle dabbing on cologne, or the man in the sandwich shop leering at you over his panini But whether people have become more protective of their personal space is difficult to say. Studies show people tend to adapt, even in cities, which are likely to grow ever more crowded based on population projections.

Hall even put numbers to the unspoken rules. He defined the invisible zones around us and attributed a range of distance to each one: intimate distance (15 to 45 cm); personal distance (45 cm to 120 cm); social distance (1.2 m to 3.6 m); and public distance (about 3.6 m or more). But personal space is not merely a numbers game. Preferences differ from culture to culture. Scholars have found that Americans generally prefer more personal space than people in Mediterranean and Latin American cultures for instance.

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