Knowing without Asking

It is said that you can learn more about a person from his travelling suitcase than from his resume. Although it is a bit of exaggeration or we will be taking our suitcases to interviews, it captures the notion that we can learn more than we think about a person from details.

A picture of things in my suitcase

Looking at the picture, what can we learn about carrier of this suitcase. Starting from verbal clues, on the bottom left corning, a “Men’s expert” cleaning cream, together with the watch and sunglasses, indicates the gender of the carrier. on the bottom right corning, there is a copy of “Fundamentals of Actuarial Science” in Chinese, so the carrier is either from China or Singapore. Also, a fundamental level textbook excludes the possibility of professional actuary or graduate student, the reader of the book might be someone who’s still exploring the field. However, in order to understand actuarial materials, he should have a fine grasp of differential equations and linear algebra. However, contrary to the actuarial textbook, the size and proportion of the laptop , as well as the keyboard, indicates a special version of Microsoft Surface Pro designed for engineering drawings (only sold in China), so the carrier could have some connections in the field of engineering / painting. The cover of his notebook is very unique that it is made of leather and metal, so the holder could have a taste for these kind of antique little thingy and the habit of keeping a diary or notes. The limited edition of batman necklace suggests he is a DC comic fan, but at the same time, the necklace does not go well with any of the clothes, so he either doesn’t care much about his appearance or has poor fashion taste. If the observer has some knowledge in light luxury or design, the card case is a Red Spot winning product, the red inner case version is once popular but the black inner case version is comparatively rare. Together with the brands of other products, the card case suggests the carrier is likely to be in the middle class in China. Some other details also help us know him better: from various objects, we know he prefers all shades of pink; from the size of the mobile battery and the phone holder, we know he uses his phone fairly much (maybe too much); from the comb, we know he has some hair / hairstyle; from the overall arrangements and the way the clothes are folded, he’s level of organization is above average among men; etc. (I assure you all above deductions are fairly accurate)

From only a part of my suitcase from one of my travels, there’s a lot and more information to be discovered. These details in life does not end with suitcases, but also hidden in every aspects of our daily lives: appearance, language styles, gestures and body language, artistic tastes, and etc. For example, from my housing preference, you can learn a lot about my fundamental values and see the idealistic side of me (as discussed in My Ideal Place to Live).

The ability to observe and interpret these kind of details can reveal more information than simply asking questions for at least two reasons. First, people can intentionally hide some information about themselves or even be untruthful, and social protocols and interpersonal relationships limit the extent of information we can politely acquire through asking questions. However, although details can also be faked, being able to notice details other don’t help you gather deeper information that’s more likely to be true. Second, inferring from details gives us an opportunity to get to know people who we don’t have a chance to converse or talk to. Sherlock Holmes is famous for his deduction ability that he can tell a lot about someone only from his / her appearance, which gives him a head start for a lot of cases. Granted such deduction is not always necessary in our non-detective lives, extra information never hurts.

Last but not least, for me, such little analysis is also an entertaining choice. I enjoy the process of logical analysis, and it’s always fun and doesn’t hurt much to do a few harmless bets with friends over these analysis sometimes.