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People watching or crowd watching is the act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge. It involves picking up on idiosyncrasies to try and guess at another person's story. This includes speech in action, relationship interactions, body language, expressions, clothing and activities. Eavesdropping may accompany the activity, though is not required. For some people it is considered a hobby, but for many others it is a subconscious activity they partake in everyday without even realizing. It requires no new skills rather than focus and discreet observation.
People watching can be insightful and informative for authors when writing a book or actors when performing a play. Watching how other people walk, talk and interact with each other can be used as inspiration for their characters. It can also inspire other artistic works such as artwork and photography, or lead to writing a symphony, movie script or blog post. For others, people watching is a fun and relaxing activity and a great way to pass time when on long journeys or are waiting.
It can also restore a sense of wonder and curiosity from when we were children. In a world consumed with technology it is also a healthy alternative to social media, as it gives you the chance to get out and get some fresh air. People watching exercises the mind as it involves taking the time to simply watch and observe and try to understand people in general.
People watching is not to be confused with naturalistic observation. Naturalistic observation is used for scientific purposes. It uses the same techniques as people watching. The key is to not let anyone know that you are observing him or her. People are in their natural environment, so there is no pressure for them to behave a certain way, as they would feel if they knew they were being studied. Scientists often are fond of this method because people are acting naturally and not acting how they are expected to act.
It is important to establish parameters before enacting in people watching activity. Stay unobtrusive and be conscious of other people's boundaries and needs for privacy. It would be inappropriate to do something thoughtless like take secret photos, follow them around or talk down on them. People watching is not about feeling superior to others and judging them. It is about observing as a detached third party and looking on at the community around us.
- Overheard in New York
- "People-Watching: Here’s Looking at You" New York Times 15 October 2006
- Cherry, Kendra. "What Is Naturalistic Observation?". About.com. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
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