Passing Comments on Digital Snurdling

Sometimes when I walk by someone on the street, I hear a little snippet of their conversation. It’s a little vox-popping insight into that persons very persona. It can be anything from the classic “I’m stuck in traffic” (when stood outside the pub) or the the slightly more ambiguous “He put it where?!”.

I don’t mean to do this; I’m not some creepy eavesdropper of Londoners most intimate secrets. I can’t turn my ears off, although sometimes I wish I could as it makes me feel a bit naughty and audibly voyeuristic. 

I feel a bit like this about Twitter. It’s like digital eavesdropping but the person knows you are listening and secretly enjoys it. Pervs.

I think I’ve turned into a bit of a ratio perv of late. I find myself more intrigued by a persons twitter ratio (the gap between followers and following) than what that person is  actually saying. It’s a bit like watching a particularly beautiful lady walk down the train platform and counting how many chaps pretend not to look at her until she’s walked past. She could be the most interesting person in the world but they will never know.

I’ve also got a similar habit with smells. If someone (male or female) walks past me on the street and they smell incredible, I’l usually turn around to the person I’m with and exclaim, much to their dismay, “Did you smell that girl/guy? they smelt AWESOME!”. This often ends up in my acquaintance’s swift departure. I assume no one wants to hang out with that guy that goes around sniffing people.

If you think about it though, surely this is what the beautiful smelling person wants? Why else would you spend an obscene amount of money on smelling great if you didn’t want someone to appreciate it? It’s not my fault I breathed near them.

The reason I chat so much breeze about this is because we’ve recently been discussing connecting smell to the internet. It’s an intriguing area because the web is such a predominantly visual / auditory focused arena. We spend a great deal of time interacting with people on the web, yet it lacks the wealth of sensory stimuli that physical human - human contact provides in meatspace.

However, in many ways, I think the 140 character twitter message bears a close resemblance to the ephemeral passing waft of a particularly fragrant individual. They  both invoke certain emotions, have a certain charm or distaste and both disappear into the ether as quickly as they arrived.

This reminds me of something my old man once told me about the act of ‘snurdling’. Snurdling is the process of keeping a keen eye out for any young damsel who has recently de-mounted her bicycles seating area. Shortly after said bicycle is bereft of its owner, the snurdler in question shuffles over to the seat and gives it a quick sniff for any traces of human bodily odour.

Strange I know, but the prospect of a world where fleeting digital interactions leave behind a notable olfactory trace, sounds like a much more interesting and subtle means of notification than the various audio and visual cues I currently receive to tell me I have just interacted with another human being.

Bring on the digital snurdlers.

- Ben

Posted on: Aug 25, 2011 at 4:53 PM

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Foundry is a research team at Mint Digital.
Foundry is all about exploring physical objects which connect to the web though digital technology.

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