In my office, there’s a map of the world, books are arranged by call number, there’s no comfortable seating for visitors, and there are no inspirational quotes visible. Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, can use the information in that first sentence to deduce all sorts of things about my personality. More importantly, his book tells the rest of us how to interpret the signals that others send out with their stuff.
Gosling is an associate professor of psychology at UT Austin and a professional snoop who seems to enjoy his job immensely. Gosling calls it ‘snoopology’ – the art and science of deciphering key elements of a person’s “character, personality, values and habits, hopes and dreams, just from looking closely at their rooms or offices.”
Most readers will want to find out right away where they fall on the OCEAN scale, a system for grouping personality traits. Gosling thoughtfully places a quiz in the early pages of Snoop to introduce the areas that will come up again and again – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Having found your place in OCEAN, it’s only natural to start assessing your co-workers, friends, family and lovers in an effort to know them better.
Be sure you read the entire book before you draw conclusions Just when you think you’ve mastered snoopology, Gosling throws out a zinger: “What does it mean to know someone?” For an answer, he refers us to research done by psychologist Arthur Aron, who developed an intriguing way of turning strangers into close friends in about an hour by having them answer a set of 36 questions. What’s your sign? isn’t one of them, but What constitutes a perfect day? is a winner for the attentive snoopologist.
Gosling must have an exceptionally high openness rating on the OCEAN scale. Not only does he generously expose his methods and his occasional misinterpretations, he also shares stories about his refrigerator system, his habit of poking into other people’s bedrooms, music collections, and trash cans, as well as his frank and unedited description of his own office that will terrify organized readers.
Snoop goes well beyond the cubicle, however. It seems Shakira was right when she sang that ‘hips don’t lie.’ Your particular walk is shouting out messages to everyone around you. Your website and MySpace page are as telling as your diary. Even your email address is a clue to your true self.
Maybe you believe that you can determine someone’s character by what is found in his trash. If so, be warned! According to Gosling, much of what really matters is often overlooked by newbie snoopers. Want to make a good impression at your job interview? If the interviewer is a non-snoopologist, she’ll likely fall for the standard indicators of social skills and motivation – talking, gesturing, and formal dress. If you are the employer, however, you’ll do better to judge an applicant on an entirely different behavior.
Gosling’s writing style is humorous and breezy, but he doesn’t skimp on the foundation. Research and analysis are described in just enough detail without getting bogged in statistics and technical jargon. Case studies and anecdotes are easy to translate into reader’s personal situations. In short, Snoop won’t change your life, but it certainly will change the way you look at stuff.