I realized something cool the other day: I can control the movements of random strangers on the street without their knowing. Don’t believe me? Read on.
You know the phenomenon when you are trying to walk past someone walking the opposite direction and you both try to switch directions to get out of each others way but end up getting more in the way? Both parties stand still for a split second before one person charts an affirmative course and the other responds by taking the opposite tack. It’s a mildly awkward experience that has happened to everyone.
What’s weird is how infrequently this actually occurs, particularly in places as crowded as new york city. With 10 million people plowing through their busy lives, thinking about jobs, kids, girls, boys and basically everything but what they are doing at the moment, it surprised me that these collisions aren’t much more frequent. Much of our navigation, even the dynamic parts like avoiding novel and moving obstacles, is unconscious. What’s really amazing is just how sensitive our autonav is.
Next time you are walking down a long, sparely populated block, try this:
1) Subtly put yourself on a collision course with an unsuspecting target. I say subtly because people notice if there is someone staring at them and uncommon traffic patterns (ie you run in front of someone). It’s best on side walks where you are walking straight toward each other. Even from half a block away you will be able to tell if you are lined up to pass to their left or right.
2) Adjust your course slightly to pass on the opposite side. Watch carefully. Either they will turn harder to maintain the status quo or they will switch tacks. If the former, then you didn’t turn hard enough.
3) Repeat. I’ve been able to get people to switch courses at least four times before noticing that the obstacle in their path required some special attention. I’ve also nearly run people into walls without them knowing why (not in a dangerous way!).
This works literally from hundreds of feet away. Crazy, eh?
To diffuse potential objections upfront: While I do think it’s amusing how zoned out most people walking down the street are, I’ve never done this in any sort of malevolent way.