The Propinquity Effect

This weekend, I learned about the propinquity effect, which describes the tendency for relationships to form from the physical or psychological proximity between people or things. For example, you’re more likely to be friends with someone in college if that person lived in your dorm building than if she lived across campus. The more exposure you have to a person or a thing, the more power and influence it has over you.

I learned about the propinquity effect in a lecture series on social media and smartphone use. The speaker described how a central danger with our phones is that at any given moment, our devices are within arms reach. Reach into your pocket to grab your wallet, and what might come out is your iPhone flashing a news notification. The solutions to excessive phone use are simple. Want to cut your phone addiction? Don’t keep it in your pocket. Want less screen time before bed? Leave your phone in another room before you go to sleep. What is near you, influences you.

It made me think about the things that are arms length away from me during the day. If I don’t want it to be my phone, what do I want to have high propinquity? What can I carry with me or place on my desk that would bring inspiration and joy? Maybe a pen and notebook, a photo of a loved one, or a wristband with a message that inspires me. The power my phone has over me is extraordinary. But the propinquity effect can serve me as well. I just need to think through how.

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