Monday, May 28, 2007

Verbal Intercourse

I had a boss, a big Swedish guy, who would routinely call me into his office, announcing to all, "Biff, I need to have verbal intercourse with you." It still creeps me out a little. At any rate, the discussion continues regarding how communication works. Now, I'm no expert in practically anything. And, to boost Hyperion's hypothesis, 64% of all statistics are made up on the spot*. So, please ingest the following with a small amount of sodium chloride. I went looking things up, which is easy to do with the Power of The Interwebs at my outsize fingertips. Wikipedia is always first, because they OWN research these days. Nevermind that the articles are written by the likes of me (albeit, hopefully more smarter likes than I). The Wiki article cites all kinds of studies relating to communication. It mentions work by Charles 'Deathbed Confessional' Darwin which argues that "all mammals show emotion reliably in their faces." I then discovered that there are actual names for all sorts of expression - object communication (clothing, or waving sticks threateningly), haptics (I guess it's a shorter word than 'touching'), chronemics (manipulation of time), oculesics (eye contact), and paralanguage (tone of voice). Too much to think about indeed. The study cited by my friend was done in 1971 by Albert Mehrabian. He's the 7%-38%-55% guy. It makes sense, especially considering how easily we pick up on whether someone is telling us the truth in face-to-face communication. If you tell me you like me, but won't make eye contact and have the scowl and tone of voice that suggests you like me as much as brussels sprouts, I might be inclined to doubt your veracity. How much does it matter though? In this forum, where we're all insulated to varying degrees by miles of cold copper wire (or fast & sexy fiber optics) and flat, unblinking monitors, we can claim anything. We can also believe anything - or not. If you're new to Spiffytown, you might believe I'm a hott, well-muscled and ridiculously wealthy entrepreneur with the keys to all of life's mysteries. In case you're still wondering, it's true. The blogs I visit tend not to be written by overly cynical people. How can I relate to someone for which everything sucks and there is no hope? To make witty observations without injecting some personality and heartfelt opinion means very little to me. The point of our discussion was to explore why online friendships are so valuable to me. Is it a substitute for 'real-live' face to face community? Of course not. Friends who know and care for me, who spend hang-out time and can ask about my business, are essential. What, then, makes the blogworld so attractive? I heard recently on NPR about a social experiment conducted on the subways of Washington DC. A violin virtuoso was standing on the platform, playing for passersby. Most paid no visible notice. A small percentage paused for a moment to listen. A tiny handful of people stopped to hear a few minutes' worth of music that would have cost them plenty to get in a concert hall. He collected $59 (including $20 from someone who recognized him). Those questioned said they were too busy, or in a hurry to get somewhere, to notice the beauty right before them. That got me to thinking about how easy it is to miss people in 'real life' circumstances. How would you know if you passed a potential best friend in the grocery store, or had so much in common with the gruff-looking guy with the beer gut at work? That's one door that online friendships opens up. Discovering people from their thoughts out, rather from appearance in. *Todd Snider, 'Statistician's Blues'

1 comment:

kenju said...

I saw the experiment with the famous violinist (can't recall his name now) on 60 minutes (or some similar show). It was appalling how many people didn't even stop to listen for a few minutes, to music that was definitely recognizable as magnificent!