Thoughtless Acts

Maria Garza
4 min readMay 3, 2021


a photographic essay of thoughtfulness responses to our environment

What is a thoughtfulness act?

Inspired by Jane Fulton and her book Thoughtless Acts, this can be defined as an exercise in seeing rather than looking at the different types of interactions we engage in with our surroundings.

Where did I look?

I knew I wanted to conduct my observation in an open environment, so I decided to explore my neighborhood. I live in Downtown East Austin, a high-trafficked area surrounded by bars and many retail spaces where everyone walks from place to place. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to explore how people blended in and reacted to the environment without imposing.

What did I find?

To begin, I tried following the same structure Jane Fulton Suri had on her book to group my own observations;

  • Adapting
  • Reacting
  • Responding
  • Exploiting
  • Co-opting
  • Conforming
  • Signaling

Based on these findings, I created some themes;

  • Flat surfaces
  • Because it fits
  • Responding to spaces

Affordances on flat surfaces

It’s surprising the many uses flat surfaces have; they can go from a table to a bed in a public space if that’s what you need at that moment. It’s like a break from gravity for objects and humans.

It doesn’t matter where you are if you are carrying something with you that you aren’t used to having around; even if it isn’t heavy, you will find a flat surface to rest it down.
This space was a decent spot to use as a table and enjoy a meal. Across the street is a food truck park with few tables that gets crowded at night.
Some groceries left forgotten in the middle of the day? Or maybe someone left them there with the purpose to be found and used? Or are these supplies for the food truck?
Are you tired? Do you want to take a quick nap? Just find the nearest flat surface around you and lay down. Flat surfaces are ideal for sitting down and take a break; why not sleeping as well.
A flat surface away from everyone’s reach can keep your hat safe from any unwanted folding.
If you are too tired, you can even choose to ignore the flat surface next to you and sit down on the closest surface you find like a bed of rocks. This space can also serve as a table when needed.
Flat surfaces are so inviting to people, especially when it comes to where to leave your leftover beverage or empty cans.
A little caffeine before meditating? Or no trashcan around to properly throw away this can?

Because it fits

Everything is made of geometrical figures that form shapes, and as we were taught since we were babies using that red and yellow blocks shape sorter toy, every shape fits into another similar body.

Empty plastic bottles can be a bit flexible, and these adapted perfectly to these unconventional spaces.
This space was ideal for keeping trash out of the streets but still not in the trash can.
Instead of putting the wooden block back where it belongs, they found that space fitting for it.
These surfaces are flat but still tiny and far away from eye distance; they are on the ground and hard to see. What stands out is how fitting the sticker and the graffiti were made to fit around it.
The ice cream cup fits ideally above this pole, while the cup above the fire hydrant fights against gravity.
We don’t know the purpose of these tables here, but they fit perfectly into this garden.

Responding to spaces

Every action has a reaction, and sometimes people tend to react to their environment even when it’s not intentionally aware.

The lack of space forces us to become more creative with the space we have. In this case, this parking lot has been reassigned as storage. Some tools are mode hidden, and others still are plain sight might have something to do with its value.
A forgotten beer under the bushes outside a bar
The trash can seems full, so the big piece of wood leans outside — the glass-filled by rainwater in the corner of a window sill.
The uniqueness of how this bike is set up blends in without disrupting the environment
Two pieces of wood signaling and inhibiting from blocking the garage entrance
Rocks serving as door holders

In conclusion

This exercise made me understand how similar we are from one another and how many of these thoughtfulness acts we do every day without noticing. I enjoyed the process of observing my surroundings more carefully and building new behaviors around them — this is an excellent opportunity to develop a new habit of being aware of how significant our everyday behavior can be.