Friday, January 21, 2011


Sensory Maps in psychology are the various parts of the brain that respond to sensory stimulation. I'm using the term, however, somewhat more broadly. I'm using it to refer to the ways with which we can alter our psychology through tampering with the environment around us. One's environment certainly affects one's opinions, moods, and behavior. Of course, how it affects us is at least somewhat dependent on personality traits and cultural expectations.

If we take a man from the rural outback, who grew up in a farm, and pop him down in the middle of a nineteenth floor block of cubicles that stretch out as far as they eye can see, you're going to get a significantly different reaction than if you take a man from Tokyo or one of the other mega-cities.

Small changes can also make an impact. Raising or lowering the temperature. Increasing or decreasing the noise level. Changing the type of noise (repetitive Christmas carols, the ocean, bird song, white noise, high-pitched humming) also has an impact. But what about light? Lighting quality can also affect things. Both the colour of the light and the type of light. If it's bright and glaring, we're more likely to feel awake, though it might make us feel more stressed. If it's 'warm', diffuse, and shadowy (like firelight), we're more likely to feel relaxed, if a bit more drowsy.

When we say we're aiming for a piece of description to evoke a mood, we're talking about these sorts of maps. True, the world around them won't conform to their expectations all the time or else it'll seem a bit ludicrous. However, there are often minor details that can be quite telling and can help readers who are trying to picture the location feel more connected to the mood itself.

So, here is my attempt to turn the humble office cubicle into a Force for Fear, Happiness, and Burn Out. I'm going to try to keep all the same words in place but change the feeling by simply changing the descriptive words.

Force for Fear.
One cubicle among many. That seemed to be the company mantra. Ninety cubicles on the 28th floor. Most were cast in darkness. The overhead lights were on a timer to go off unless there was enough motion in the area. It was one of the few modern renovations in a building constructed in 1886. My section still had lighting because I was working late. I had the elevator directly behind me and every so often it would ding as the elevator climbed past my floor along its creaking tracks. It still had its accordion door and every time it went past, I'd look back over my shoulder and see into the empty lift.

Force for Happiness.
One cubicle among many. That seemed to be the company mantra. Twelve cubicles on the 2nd floor. All were well-lit by the odd assortment of lamps we had brought in for the last show and tell. Mine was beaded. My desk was a mess of drawings, hand-written notes, post-its, and pot-plants. I had the window directly behind me, overlooking the park, and every so often I'd look back over my shoulder and gaze down into the main street at my home town.

Force for Burn Out.
One cubicle among many. That seemed to be the company mantra. Forty cubicles on the 28th floor. Too many fluorescent lights cast the floor in an all-too-severe light worsened by the bright white floors, walls, and ceilings. My desk was a maze of paperwork, all set out in neat little piles, all marked with little red lettering by my superviser. The lettering was so small I almost had to keep a magnifying glass on hand to read it. I had the window directly behind me, the window into my boss' office that is, and every so often I'd look back over my shoulder and see my boss looking back at me.

What do you think? And why don't you all have a go? Just set up the same location type (office, hospital ward, etc.) and give it three different descriptions.


  1. Hi Shannon,

    I just nominated you for the Style Blog Award.
    Please check out my blog to claim your prize, you can copy/paste the info to your site.

    I love your setup and just signed your site.


  2. Perspective is interesting. What one person focuses on may totally different than another in the same circumstance. I often do variations of this type of exercise when I try to see all sides of something. I tend not to make too many judgements until I've looked at something from different vantage points.

    Tossing It Out

  3. Thanks for the blogger's award. I'm aiming to fulfill the criteria at some point. I just haven't gotten around to checking out 10 new blogs yet.