Understanding Proxemics in Different Cultures

Proxemics is the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture.
Proxemics is a subset of non-verbal communication that refers to the distance between two people that are interacting with each other. This space between two communicating individuals can be an indicator of the relationship between them, the age difference, the difference in social and monetary status, etc. Depending on the type of relationship between the two individuals, spatial boundaries are maintained. There exist 4 types of spatial boundaries, which can be described as concentric circles with increasing radii, and the person at the center. If one examined them in an increasing order, they would be as follows:

Intimate Distance: less than 1.5ft; for lovers, partners, etc.
Personal Space: 4ft; for friends and family
Social Space: 12ft; Acquaintances, colleagues, etc.
Public Distance: 25 ft; interacting with strangers or public speaking

However, these distances are not strictly defined, and may change due to the population density of a region as well as the cultural norms observed there. It is difficult to offer generalizations on the concept of personal space due to these constraints. For example, Japanese people stand 4-5 ft apart from each other when in a meeting or when carrying out a discussion, while Europeans and North Americans stand quite closer in the same scenario. On the other hand, when using public transport, the Japanese will show a reduced personal space due to high population density, whereas the Europeans and North Americans will have greater personal space as the population density is comparatively low in those regions. Hence, cultural norms play a huge role in determining the dynamics of personal space between two individuals. To fully understand the subtle differences in the proxemics around the world, one must understand the dynamics of personal space across various cultures.

Proxemics in Different Cultures

To understand the scope of variation in proxemics across various cultures and countries, Edward Hall classified cultures into two main categories, namely contact and non-contact culture. These categories refer to the amount of physical touching permitted socially between any two individuals in any given culture. Some cultures have a high propensity for physical touching (contact) between people having a conversation, while some cultures lack this inclination (non-contact). In contact cultures, physical touching is not only permitted but also necessary for establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Examples of this type of culture include the Arab, Italian, French, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cultures. On the other hand, in case of non-contact cultures, physical touching is not prevalent, and occurs only in case of intimate friends and family. Such type of cultures include the North American, Norwegian, Japanese, and most other Asian cultures.

Based on Hall’s categorization of cultures, Richard Lewis further expanded the types of cultures based on the communication styles adopted by each culture type. This cultural classification is called the “The Lewis Model”. It also includes a test that individuals can take to determine their own cultural style of communication. In the model, Lewis outlined three categories, of which one represented the contact culture, whereas the other two were a bifurcation of the non-contact cultures. They are as follows.

Linear-active: It is a subset of non-contact cultures, and is characterized by cool, logical, and decisive actions of the individuals. People of this type of culture tend to be direct and to the point, and are often perceived as being impatient. Their general demeanor is reserved, and they mostly deal with facts rather than speculations. They include cultures like the North American, and Northern European cultures.
Reactive: It is the other subset of non-contact cultures. The people belonging to it are accommodating and non-confrontational. They are mostly calm and collected and do not instigate or encourage an aggressive behavior. They value decorum and diplomacy over facts and emotions in order to conduct everyday activities in a harmonious fashion. They are very patient listeners, and exhibit neutral body language and expressions. This type includes cultures of Vietnam, China, and Japan.
Multi-active: This subtype represents the contact cultures, where the people are warm and impulsive. Individuals are enthusiastic and readily express emotion in an extravagant display. They prefer personal stories and emotional accounts over cold hard facts. Their enthusiasm is evident in the way they interrupt each others flow of conversation. These type of people are impulsive and openly impatient. Examples of these cultures are those of Brazil, Mexico, and Greece.

Despite the usefulness of the study of proxemics, the theory suffers from extensive criticism on account of it offering sweeping generalizations and cultural stereotypes. While these claims may be partially true, the fact that these studies help in enhancing cross-cultural communication and non-verbal behavior cannot be overlooked.

Effect of Social Media on Healthcare

social media

While social media has made a mark in every realm of our lives, the realm of healthcare is not far behind, and is in fact catching up pretty quickly. The presence of the healthcare industry in different types of social media has created quite a stir regarding its impact on society at large. With the growing number of e-patients, the authenticity of information shared on these media is being questioned. However, the fact that the e-patient is becoming more responsible for his own health and well-being cannot be overlooked.

Be it interaction on online communities such as PatientsLikeMe or Inspire, mere information dissemination via networks like Facebook and Twitter, or videos on YouTube explaining medical procedures, discoveries, or patient experiences, the presence of social media is strongly rooted in the world of healthcare and will remain so in the future. As we can see, there are two sides to this coin too, and here we discuss the positive and the negative impact of social media on healthcare and on the e-patient.

Social Media and Its Impact on the Healthcare Industry

In the year 2009, live updates were sent on Twitter while a surgery was performed on a patient to get rid of a cancerous tumor in his kidney, by the Henry Ford Hospital. Real-time updates about such a sensitive procedure created a huge buzz in the online community. The purpose, the hospital said, was to educate future patients with a similar condition about such procedures, so that they were more informed and would be able to understand the process without being intimidated by it. Of course, a lot of students benefited from the procedure, as live updates and videos of this surgery helped them in the course of study. As such, this social medium let out to the world, information that was otherwise considered restricted within a hospital/medical center.

This instance tells us a lot about perhaps the growing necessity of social media in the field of healthcare. While a lot of people would still refute the necessity of tweeting a live operation, there are others who claimed to have been better informed by it. This procedure was also termed as a marketing strategy to attract new patients to the hospital, which is believed to have worked in their favor. And this is just one way in which social media has entered this industry.

Positive Impact

A recent survey reports that 61% of Internet users resort to the Internet for health information. One fact that has been revealed from this survey is that the e-patient is slowly becoming more responsible for his own health, and is taking steps to become more self-reliant. This is a broad advantage of the entry of social media in this industry.

The Rise of the E-Patient
Online health communities, forums and support groups have allowed patients from all over the world to connect with each other, and this is particularly beneficial for those suffering from rare health conditions. While you may be the only one in your town to have a disease, you definitely are not the only one in the world. These interactive communities are allowing patients themselves to suggest the right person to consult for a particular health condition, and the kind of questions that should be posed to the healthcare practitioner regarding the condition. In fact, these communities respect patient privacy by allowing patients to participate anonymously.

Direct Communication with the Healthcare Practitioner
It is not unknown that accessing doctors has become more difficult nowadays. However, by connecting with doctors via various social media, patients are now able to get their medical advice sooner. Doctors are not only imparting direct information to their own patients, but also put up blog posts, or tweet information continuously to inform patients about various conditions without specific diagnoses. These are time-saving and cost-effective methods that help both, the doctor and the patient. Doctors also use these platforms to educate the public about life-saving measures in case of emergencies.

Marketing Tool for Hospitals/Pharmaceutical Companies
Social media is also used as a great marketing tool to launch a variety of healthcare products. The informed consumer even has the ability to rate and review these products, thereby providing first-hand information to those who would like to try these products themselves. With regard to using social media marketing by hospitals, the aforementioned example of the live tweets of a surgery was a good marketing strategy to attract more patients as well as personnel to the hospital.

Raising General Awareness
Both e-patients and doctors are using social media platforms to raise awareness about different health conditions and healthcare products that may prove beneficial to others. Rapid information dissemination via Facebook and Twitter allows the consumer/potential patient to educate himself much sooner. Also, such platforms are being used to address cases of suicides, where immediate help may be provided to prevent such an action.

Rising Popularity of Non-Profit Health Organizations
Non-profit organizations are utilizing the power of social media to garner attention to their causes, and get people to participate more in enabling eradication of health issues that plague society in general. This is one of the biggest influences of social media on healthcare.

Negative Impact

With every positive side there comes a negative side too, and this is true even in the case of the utilization of social media in this industry. However, it is believed that increased regulation may reduce the intensity of some of these negative effects.

Abuse of Social Media by Hospital Employees

William Wells arrived at the emergency room at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach on April 9, mortally wounded. The 60-year-old had been stabbed more than a dozen times by a fellow nursing home resident, his throat slashed so savagely he was almost decapitated.

Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, the nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: they snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.

This is a clear case of how social media is abused by the healthcare industry. The concerned staff were fired immediately, but that does not guarantee that such instances will not recur. Moreover, violating the privacy of patients by sharing their personal or health-related information via various social media is an occurrence that is likely to continue unless regulated strictly by the parent organization. It has also been found that hospital employees spend more time online than they do working, thereby resulting in several cases of negligence.

Supposed Lack of Authentic Information
No matter how far social media goes, nothing can replace the personal diagnosis of a doctor. Yes, in less serious situations, one may rely on the information available online. However, when a patient does enter an online support group, how much can he rely on the information available there? YouTube videos and Facebook and Twitter posts can be relied upon to a certain extent. But before doing so, the e-patient must thoroughly examine the authenticity of the person providing the information by checking the profile of the person and viewing the source (website on which it is presented) of the information. If it is a website or a forum dedicated to health and medicine, it is likely to be more reliable than an anonymous Twitter post.

Increasing Demands on a Doctor’s Time
A question of concern that has been often raised in this area is the amount of time that doctors always seem to have a dearth of. Will they be able to tend to patients personally as well as online? Again, the same amount of responsibility is essential when talking to a patient via social media, and whether or not they can give this kind of time and responsibility, is a major concern.

Blurring Line Between Personal and Professional Lives of Doctors
Befriend your doctor on Facebook and you may be privy to more information than you thought was necessary. Doctors have personal lives too, and seeing a photo of your doctor enjoying a drink at a party may affect your perception of him, as well as how reliable you now consider him to be. It is important then, that doctors create separate accounts specifically for their patients in order to keep the relationship strictly professional, and provide necessary information that can be used to authenticate their credibility.

All in all, it can be said that social media cannot be used as a replacement for the traditional mode of treatment or health care; instead, it can be used to enhance awareness and create a well-informed global community that can personally benefit from the plethora of information that is being put out there by the minute. Increased knowledge and responsibility on part of the e-patient as well as the healthcare provider, and the ability of the doctor to spread awareness with cost-effective methods is sure to have a deep and positive impact in the long run, particularly if the methods of online communication in the healthcare sector are thoroughly regulated.

Social Media versus IRL

The stereotype is this: the more time you spend online, the more online friends you have, and the less time you have left over for IRL relationships. Makes sense, right? After all, the day is only so long, and most of us have to devote a certain portion of it to sustaining life and livelihood. So conversely, it must be those of us with fabulously active social lives who don’t have time for all that Twitter jazz and Facebooking.

Or, maybe people who are naturally social tend to collect friends both online and off, and loners tend to remain relatively solitary out of personal preference. This also makes sense – in plenty of cases, online and offline friends are not mutually exclusive groups.

No Correlation
As it turns out, both assumptions are wrong. Several studies came out in early 2012 that found no correlation between social media users’ online and offline social presence. The “time constraint” philosophy and the “loner vs butterfly” idea are neat little ways of labeling phenomena, but they are inaccurate.

Overall, it seems that the main factor affecting both online and IRL relationships is how you handle yourself. After all, it is entirely possible to let live friendships fall by the wayside if you’re spending all your time online, but people tend not to let valued relationships deteriorate that easily. Going to dinner with a good friend trumps the best troll-roll.

Overlapping Circle of Friends
Another reason may be the fact that our online and offline lives aren’t as compartmentalized as we assume. How many IRL friends and family members and coworkers follow your blog/status updates/tweets? Have you ever brought an online friendship into real life? The two groups overlap. While the internet makes connecting across distances easier, especially for the time-crunched, many of our online “friends” may be people we see face-to-face frequently. So your social circle may be smaller than you think it is if it contains double entries.

All that said, the possibility of internet addiction does exist. If you find yourself participating in real life less and less while your butt sort of melts into your computer chair, seek help. But an over-reliance on social media can be more insidious than that, especially in an age where people (especially the young ‘uns) are more likely to text a friend than call.

Simple Rules
A simple rule of thumb is this – use the quickest, simplest method of communication possible. If you plan to initiate a conversation, pick up the darn phone. If a quick “yes”, “no”, or “8:00 is fine” is all you need to say, texting is fine. DO NOT post a status update asking for a ride to work in an hour. Call or text. DO NOT private-message or tweet something that could be potentially embarrassing, because you will either send it to the exact wrong person or forget to mark it as “private”.

DO NOT break up with someone in a status update or tweet, because only d—–bags do that, and it leaves too much opportunity for trolling. DO NOT make duckface in pictures, because both your IRL friends and your online friends will think you’re an idiot.

Don’t be Forever Alone
Above all, remember that text on a screen does not convey tone. That is the biggest drawback to social media, and may be the one biggest troublemaker when it comes to friendships. It doesn’t matter how many emoticons you use, how many pictures you draw, or how many times you say “lol”. If what you just typed makes you sound like an a–hat, delete, delete, delete, and rephrase.

Because, kids, although social media doesn’t necessarily affect your life, it can. Not because it’s online, but because you tend to act like less than a sir, and your adorable face can’t make up for it over the interwebz.

How Does Social Media Affect Relationships?

Social media has played a very important part in ensuring that we stay connected with our near and dear ones. There are various social media websites out there and all of them compete to provide the best possible features to the users. These social media sites have allowed people to make new friends, and have fostered many relationships. Today, you get instant updates from friends whether they are out on a skiing trip or attending a concert. These features have made social media sites extremely popular among people, especially the youth, who are hooked on to these sites all day. However researchers are asking whether these social media sites are substituting face-to-face interaction. Has technology made people to rely too much on virtual communication? Well, if researchers are to be believed, social media has led to a change in the way people communicate with each other.

Social Media and Relationships

Social media has both positive and negative effects on a relationship. On one hand, it can make one stay connected with his friends all the time, on the other hand, it can cause people to have lesser face-to-face conversation. Also, it has been seen that relationships that develop when two people actually meet each other last longer than those which develop over the internet. In the absence of social networking etiquette, the interactions that you have can be repulsive. However, every coin has two sides, and social media is no exception to that, so it is important to understand the benefits and the repercussions of social media on relationships.

Positive Effects

Social media allows individuals to make new friends, discover new interests, and connect to a large group of people who share similar interests as theirs. People who are not very comfortable with personal interaction, or who suffer from social anxiety often fail to make good friends. Social media can provide them with a real opportunity to shed their inhibitions and be friendly with people. Social media has also made it possible for people from different countries to develop effective relationships. You can interact with people from different countries and know more about them and their culture. Social media has made it possible for a person to share instant updates with each other. Long-distance relationships were earlier characterized by the absence of communication, however it is now possible to constantly stay in touch with each other. Social media websites allow an individual to create a profile which has all the information about the person’s likes and dislikes. This is extremely beneficial in knowing whether you would be compatible with that person or not. Social media also helps you to network in an effective way from the confines of your home.

Negative Effects

One thing most couples complain about these days is that instead of spending quality time with each other, the partners are constantly hooked on to the social media to know what is going on in the lives of others. This can cause a dent in the relationship, as communication is very important to sustain a relationship. It is important therefore, that you spend considerable time with your close ones and limit the time you spend on the internet. The biggest threat social media poses to a relationship is that credibility of a person cannot be gauged on a social media site. This can make people create fake profiles, post incorrect information about themselves, manipulate facts and exaggerate the truth. Developing relationship with such individuals has its own risks as these people can take undue advantage of others. Relationships developed on social media tend to be casual and this can lead to emotional turmoil and heartburn in case you trust someone blindly. It has also been observed it is easier for individuals to indulge in confrontation on social media as compared to face-to-face confrontation.

These were some of the ways in which social media can affect a relationship. Technology is here to stay and one cannot blame it for our lack of understanding. As someone has rightly said that we need to fall in place with technology rather than it falling in place with us. It is important that we put technology to good use as it can really enhance the quality of our lives.