What’s the Big Idea?
In true messianic fashion, Steve Jobs has described the look of Apple’s futuristic new headquarters–located in a circular, four-story building on 150 acres in Cupertino, CA–as like “a spaceship landing.” Recently Big Think asked Sam Gosling, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About Youto analyze the meaning behind the metaphor. “In addition to projecting innovation as they always have, it’s a way to convey the idea of bringing things from the future to today,” he says. Does that make Jobs an alien?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Using our surroundings to express our identity is innately human, and the choices we make about which objects to display–a clock or a world map, a copy of Ulysses or a lovingly curated collection of Star Wars figurines–serve as clues to help strangers interpret who we are, as well as symbols to remind ourselves of who we want to be. Of course, it’s possible to arrange a room to promote a certain image, but most of us want to be genuinely known, which is why we carry reminders like family photographs in our pockets.
For Jobs, the equivalent may be literally recreating the landscape of his childhood. The mothership is to be built on land once owned by his idol and former employer, HP founder Bill Hewlett, and will feature native plants (including an apricot orchard) that harken back to California’s pre-tech days. According to Gosling, “the reference to the organization’s origins has echoes of the sorts of things we do with our own personal spaces: in any good narrative the present and imagined future must be paired with the past.”
Ultimately, the real test of authenticity lies in the comparison between an individual’s public and private space. You may be able to pass for a neat-freak at work, but at home you’re forced to square the discrepancy between aspiration and reality, as anyone who’s ever been to a dinner party can appreciate. (Witness the collective preoccupation with hiding an LCD TV discretely inside a media console.) “Let’s look around Apple headquarters and then sneak into Steve Jobs’ house and compare the two. If he really has a polar bear farm in the backyard, that’s when I might start to question the authenticity of his vision.” (Note: Jobs’ house was designed by the same firm responsible for most of Apple’s brick-and-mortar stores.)
What’s the Significance?
You are inevitably being judged based on the environment you create, even and perhaps especially at work. That doesn’t mean you need to rethink your values every time you change your screen saver. To determine what your office is saying about you, look around and take note of the larger patterns or themes that emerge:
The three rules of being a good snoop: