DISTANCE MEANINGS -Issues of Design 28

Post 702 –by Gautam Shah


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Distance has TWO fundamental involvements, One, where we judge farness of a perceptible object, and Two, where we gauge the ‘apartness of two things from each other. In both instances the distance is primarily a comparison and so scaled quantity, but it could be the intensity of the subjective sense of perception. Distance tells us about the intervening space. Distance is a measure of how far away an object is from other things. Displacement is magnitude how much an object has been displaced from its original location and in which direction the shift has occurred. In this sense Distance is a scalar whereas Displacement is a vector quantity.

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The word Distāre (Latin) derives from the root ‘sta’ =to stand, make or be firm and also meant to stand apart. Another older variant Distaunce of 13-14 C =a dispute, controversy, civil strife, rebellion, disagreement, discord, strife. Destance of old French =discord, quarrel. Distantia of Latin =a standing apart. Distantem a nominative distans = standing apart, separate, distant. Modern version Distance =remoteness of space, extent of space between two objects or places, an interval of time, remote part of a field of vision.

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Further and Farther are two confusing words. Further is older, and it had originally nothing to do with far. The word far was loaded with -er to become farrer. This was difficult to use orally. There were two other words nearby, fore or forth. In other words, further didn’t originally mean ‘more distant’ but something like ‘more ahead’, or, as the contemporary Oxford Dictionary states it, ‘more forward, more onward’.

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Distance is a measurement in numerical form of how far apart the objects are and also a proportionate measure or ratio. The numerical values are unattached or unconditional (absolute) so in nominal conditions ‘distance from A to B’ and from B to A are the same and interchangeable’.

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Greek Aristarchus (310-230 BC) was the first to estimate the Earth to Sun distance by measuring the angular separation of the Sun and Moon. The first reasonably accurate measurement of the Earth-Sun distance was made by Cassini in 1672. Scientifically accurate distance can be measured, if there is a bounce back (reaction). Apollo missions positioned reflectors to bounce a pulse of a laser. Radiations or physical changes on an interstellar body reach differently to such reflectors on earth and moon, permitting computation of distance.


Spatial remoteness is a separation of sensorial nature with some emotional flavour. The separation may also indicate the difference or disparity between two real or abstract things, thoughts or cognition. The separation or remoteness allows wider view and adds the capacity to observe issues dispassionately. Meaning of remoteness, indicating the space between things, places or events is of late 14c origin. Remoteness is the figurative sense of aloofness.

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If distance refers to the existence of physical space between two objects, then to measure that one can use the time to transverse the interval. The remoteness or closeness of a thing or happening can be a measure of reach of the human body limbs and sensorial nodes. The reach offers tools for intervention, offense and defense.

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The human reach was reflected in word Distantia (Latin root of distance) which meant standing apart (or away) from quarrels, estrangements, discords or strife. This term Distantia refers to a spatial distance, but also indicate the effects of it.


A shouting distance, within ear shot, shouting distance, within sniffing distance, under one’s nose, all relate to sensorial capacities, whereas cheek by jowl, hand in hand, near at hand, hand in glove, within striking distance, walking distance, within spitting distance, stones throw away, cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder is limbs related distancing characteristics. There are few terms where the distance is traversing in time like the impending disaster, imminent, upcoming event, relapse and longing. Distance is more pronounced when two people turn away from each other. This is an attempt to disorient the sensorial nodes.

Super Car Tour

Distances seem finite where the definitive entities like under a single sky or roof, or within a bounded terrain (plaza, public square). Distances are less daunting where destinations are within sensorial reach.

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Relationships involving hate or love are reflected in the intervening distance. Distance sometimes lets you know who is worth keeping, and who is worth letting go (-Lana Del Rey). But, now the relationships are bridged by means of communication and presence through virtual adjacency. In the past when distances were measured in time, such as lunches required or horses feed station on the way. And that is why ‘time was the longest distance between two places’ (Tennessee Williams).The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time’ (Simon Sinek).

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Distance blurs the scene but then everything seems simpler from a distance’ (-Gail Tsukiyama). Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity’ (Robert Morgan). And indeed, Louis L’Amour finds distance lends perspective and I often write better of a place when I am some distance from it. One can be so overwhelmed by the forest as to miss seeing the trees’.

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This is the 28th article (in continuation of old series -new beginning) on ISSUES of DESIGN.



Post 208 –by Gautam Shah



Distancing is instinctive way of adjusting the space around our self. The distance is created from human beings, other beings, objects and environmental affectations. Distance also means the size of intervening space, or affective extent of space. It is also perceived in terms of response to the space, intervening objects, physical reach and perceptibility.

most terrible poverty is loneliness and feeling of being unloved

The culture defines the acceptable or inappropriate types of intimacies. A crowded stair, elevator, bus etc. do not project an intimate atmosphere. A handshake or hug nominally has no sexual meaning in many cultures. In some cultures a veil is considered retardant of intimacy. Intimacy could be a display or an expression with physical touch, but with no apparent mental feelings.


Distancing subdues the sensorial perception of threatening, disturbing or overwhelming elements. Distancing means creating a physical distance, and of curtailing the perception by occlusion and isolation. It also includes disregarding the elements. Distancing differs for each of the involved sensorial faculties.

rajkot_express_at_vadodara_railway_station1Distancing creates greater space to act without spatial hindrances, and also a setting for communication and expression. Distance is governed by environmental factors, social requirements, psychological make-up, time duration, experiences, and the relevance of objects and people.


Tavern Scene 1658-David Teniers II

Intimacy is determined by the distance one creates and perceives from other beings and objects. There is a very INTIMATE ORBIT close to the body. The spread of orbit varies depending on the cultural bearing and personal conditioning. The body odour plays very important role in influencing the intimacy. There is PERSONAL ZONE, much larger in scale, and partly overlapping the intimate orbit. This is a zone of regulated and selective participation. This is a zone where one can reach out through projection (expression, and channels of communication), physically extend the body limbs, and stretch out with gadgets (walking stick, stethoscope, etc.). Certain objects and space subsections are considered personal territories due to long term possession or intense customization. Chief guests’ chair, head chair at the end of a dining table, study table, are such personal entities.


This is a RANGE OF NEARNESS that defines the area for participation without personal involvement. The nearness is decided by the position and duration of the eye contact, sound pitch and language call, olfactory sensation and body heat perception. It is a non-committal area and continuously varying nearness, as time (duration) and space (distance), is used to compensate each other.

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  • As per the protocol, leaders of the two nations never share a seat, but rather occupy separate seats distanced with a small table or flower vase. Similarly deputies accompanying their leaders, are made to sit at some distance, from where they get a sense of participation but have no chance of intervention. On public platforms one intentionally uses lower sound pitch to draw attention. On very large dining table one can effectively hold conversation with members sitting on the two sides, but not across the table. In gatherings one uses differing sound pitch to reach desired distance.

People Cafe Adult Young Street City London

The REALMS OF REACH are spaces, where tasks, activities, purposes, are predefined or recognized. Such realms are unitary spaces that offer a sense of belonging, safety, security and personalized identity. Reach is established by familiarity of the surroundings. Intimacy, derives through sense of control and participation, in the ‘homely’ setting. The reach is in visible range, shout or call, and the odour. Such public areas foster non-intimate group behaviour. Mothers allow children to play in such under surveillance spaces.

Jean Béraud Au Bistro

Jean Béraud Au Bistro

The need to be alone or be part of a group arises from factors like personal (psychological and physiological), intra-personal (communication, exchanges) and group behaviour mechanisms (sense of belonging, sharing, participation, confirmation). For an individual a space that permits one to ‘distance’ from others is a private space. For a group, a space that allows easy communication and recognition is intimate space.


Two persons or members of a group can talk in whispers and give out an impression of intimacy, in spite of the apparent distance between them. Conversely talk-discussions in high pitch could be used to present bonhomie and thereby a close-knit entity. Politicians and celebrities talk in whispers to state things that need to be made public and talk loudly things that need not be public, both ways they draw the attention. A public orator changes the pitch from normal to very low or high to draw the attention of the audience and thereby be intimate or non-committal.

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Enclosing space forms (corners, cones, concave) force individuals to be closely spaced and be intimate enough to form a group. Crowded spaces force intimacy of coexistence. The coexistence may push an individual to mentally barricade own-self or open-up. Some environmental and other effects are highly focussed (illuminated spot, under the fan area, sunny patch, breezy path) and force a group to share the same zone and so breed intimacy.


Eye contact could be both intimate and non-intimate. A direct eye contact allows better non-verbal communication (empathy), but a in direct eye contact also subdues the other person and thus is less-intimate. Persons meeting in one to one setting are more intimate, than their encounter in public presence or a gaze. Audio intimacy occurs over a chat on telephone or mobile, web chatting, video-conferencing. Virtual proximity Intimacy is also achieved by entering into some one’s private domain like home, a bedroom, toilet, study area. Homes and work places of great-famous persons provide illusion of physical intimacy.