Thursday, March 04, 2010

Four Questions about Human Interaction

They are related. Comments and replies welcome.
  1. Why is talking on the cellphone while driving considered so dangerous, while talking to a fellow passenger is considered safe?
  2. Why are letter/email-driven love affairs, chat friendships, internet personals landscape such bad bets at finding a reasonably compatible mate?
  3. Why are people so rude on the road when driving when they are generally much more fair, considerate and polite while in a human queue?
  4. Why do flame wards erupt more easily in written communication than in face-to-face discussions?
And a final question only for those familiar with the history of Actualism: Assuming R/V interact with great sensitivity and consideration in person, why do they interact so sub-optimally while writing?

These are all loaded questions, but assuming they are describing the phenomena correctly, what do you think is the reason behind each phenomenon?

...

My answers are:

A1: Talking on a phone involves imagination/visualization of another's reactions, body language, face, etc. Since the visual is unavailable, we create the visual in our head. This imaginative overhead lessens our attention field and can cause accidents. You can do an experiment (not recommended on a busy or unknown road): While driving, talk to a person on your cellphone about a contentious issue and observe how the car almost drives on autopilot with a much reduced awareness of surroundings.

A2: The identity and its characteristics in such interactions is much more of an artifice than in face-to-face meetings. Since we have only the written word/voice, we imagine the other parts (beauty, body language, character, personality, smell, etc.) and since this is a love affair, we imagine things to be much better than they are in reality. It is an affair with a phantasm of our imagination, which breaks down when we finally start living with the person.

A3: In a queue, we see others as human beings. On the road, we see not human beings but cars and automobiles and bikes etc. We intellectually know that there is a human agent in the car, but this intellectual insight doesn't really go deep unless one makes special efforts. We are rude (by cutting a car off, by hair-lining a motorcycle, by honking at a truck) because in our brains, we are being rude to non-living objects and not to human beings. It requires a leap of imagination to be courteous on the road (we have to always remember that there is a human being inside, who may have specific reasons for driving as he is driving), which is too much effort, esp. in busy traffic.

A4: In the written medium, we can invent a better "me" than I am in reality. People who live with me know who I am. But my correspondents have only my words to go by, and therefore if I am good with words, I can be a great man in the virtual realm.

Through writing, I can invent a higher "me". I put my best into that, that is the best "me" I can imagine.

Now if that higher "me" is also seen to be less than worthy, i.e. if someone criticizes my writings or my works, I can go ape-shit.

And this is true of not just writing, but any article imbued with my identity. I remember the response of the Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar who responded to a critique of one of his concert performances with words to this effect: How dare you criticize my music and my training, you can criticize my rendering of it, due to my old age, but how dare you critique the essence of what I was trying to play? (the really precious identity is in the ideal music that he was trying to play)

Moreover, in the written medium, one is hyper-sensitive about any perceived slight, since one's virtual identity is more vulnerable than one's real self, given that it has taken more effort at creating it and this identity is more public, and the display of its worth (or un-worth) is objectively out there.

Lastly, going ape-shit is safer online. Once the fight has started, one can rain virtual blows and not worry about consequences, since no physical harm can come off it. In the virtual world, it turns very ugly very quickly.

A5: TBD

14 comments:

Jack said...

A first rough cut:

Q's 1 to 4: Because our social identities, and thus the parameters of our conduct, are co-created on the fly. The physical presence of another person leads to rapid feedback, a real-time co-creation of identity, whereas the other modes of interaction allow a greater time lapse between impulse and action, don't offer such rapid feedback and therefore allow for exaggerated/uninhibited expressions of inherent tendencies. IOW, the instant feedback afforded by a person's physical presence in practice has an inhibitory effect.

That's my theory.

As for the supplementary questions:
Face to face with Richard, he often said things to me that I've read on the website, almost word for word. But in person there is a lightness of touch that doesn't translate well into writing. What seemed like a hectoring, humiliating, domineering style of interaction in text has a much lighter, more playful, less serious, less heavy effect in person... even though the words are the same. He can put the boot into everyone's pet beliefs, but it is more apparent that it comes from a place of benevolence than when you're just reading it (and probably imagining how spiteful/mocking you'd be feeling if you were writing such things).

Vineeto's tone seemed very dogmatic and brusque to me in the early days. These days I've come to the view that in public, Peter and Vineeto had taken a brave stand early on, they had put themselves on the line, and they did not share much of their vulnerability and doubt with the rest of us. The less they seemed willing to show their human frailty, the more we took them to be setting themselves up on a pedestal, and the more we were motivated to dislike and pull them down, and pounce on their every mistake. (We also had a vested interest in considering them bullshit artists).

It has been great to meet them in person after all these years. I've found them, before and after actual freedom, to be really lovely, kind, intelligent, and genuinely caring people.

I will not go into too much detail about private conversations, but I can at least tell you that our shared impression of Vineeto as someone who could not and would not admit to the slightest mistake was false. Vineeto did not consider herself infallible and did not consider herself to have behaved impeccably on the old Topica list. She was just doing the best she could at the time, as was Peter, given the state they were both in and the things they considered most important to convey to the world.

One thing worth noting on that topic: among actualists it's assumed that we're in this together to blamelessly explore the human condition in ourselves, not to point the finger at each other... so with people similarly motivated there is no demand for the mea culpa / forgiveness routine that's so common in most circles (and indeed is a token of honesty and good faith). This lack of public mea cupla is not to be confused with denying that mistakes can be made, and are made... it's just that they're taken care of individually, unilaterally, and it's assumed that in present company everyone is doing that with their OWN shit.

Cheers,
Jack.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Thanks Jack, though I will respond to Q5 and your answer later, I will give my answers to Q1-4 now:

A1: Talking on a phone involves imagination/visualization of another's reactions, body language, face, etc. Since the visual is unavailable, we create the visual in our head. This imaginative overhead lessens our attention field and can cause accidents. You can do an experiment (not recommended on a busy or unknown road): While driving, talk to a person on your cellphone about a contentious issue and observe how the car almost drives on autopilot with a much reduced awareness of surroundings.

Harmanjit Singh said...

A2: The identity and its characteristics in such interactions is much more of an artifice than in face-to-face meetings. Since we have only the written word/voice, we imagine the other parts (beauty, body language, character, personality, smell, etc.) and since this is a /love/ affair, we imagine things to be much better than they are in reality. It is an affair with a phantasm of our imagination, which breaks down when we finally start living with the person.

Anonymous said...

Ahh... so this blog is becoming more and more like an actual freedom mailing list with each passing day..

Harmanjit Singh said...

A3: In a queue, we see others as human beings. On the road, we see not human beings but cars and automobiles and bikes etc. We intellectually know that there is a human agent in the car, but this intellectual insight doesn't really go deep unless one makes special efforts. We are rude (by cutting a car off, by hair-lining a motorcycle, by honking at a truck) because in our brains, we are being rude to non-living objects and not to human beings. It requires a leap of imagination to be courteous on the road (we have to always remember that there is a human being inside, who may have specific reasons for driving as he is driving), which is too much effort, esp. in busy traffic.

Harmanjit Singh said...

A4: In the written medium, we can invent a better "me" than I am in reality. People who live with me know who I am. But my correspondents have only my words to go by, and therefore if I am good with words, I can be a great man in the virtual realm.

Through writing, I can invent a higher "me". I put my best into that, that is the best "me" I can imagine.

Now if that higher "me" is also seen to be less than worthy, i.e. if someone criticizes my /writings/ or my /works/, I can go ape-shit.

And this is true of not just writing, but any article imbued with my identity. I remember the response of the Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar who responded to a critique of one of his concert performances with words to this effect: How dare you criticize my music and my training, you can criticize my rendering of it, due to my old age, but how dare you critique the essence of what I was /trying/ to play? (let me see if I can find the reference)

Moreover, in the written medium, one is hyper-sensitive about any perceived slight, since one's virtual identity is more vulnerable than one's real self, given that it has taken more effort at creating it and this identity is more public, and the display of its worth (or un-worth) is objectively out there.

Lastly, going ape-shit is safer online. Once the fight has started, one can rain virtual blows and not worry about consequences, since no physical harm can come off it. In the virtual world, it turns very ugly very quickly.

srid said...

A4. Agree with Harman's answer; the virtual medium provides almost infinite flexibility in moulding your virtual self by way of words, content and the beliefs they convey. Like Jack said, in the real-world - realtime physical feedback from other people, our remembered persona of them, the remembrance of the nature/dynamics of our real identity that interacted/interacts with themselves will create a totally different response altogether. And in the real-world - among normal people, that is - there isn't much aggressive conversational behaviour because of morals and values (which are not really applicable to the online arena -- as that is composed of virtual identities).

Also, after you and X meet in real-world for the first time, in my experience, there is a substantial reduction in the virtual identity in online interactions between you and A. This was one of many clues I got regarding the ongoing process in my brain that keeps moulding the virtual identity.

I also believe this issue with virtual identity is more of an issue with intelligent people well versed in language.

Assuming R/V interact with great sensitivity and consideration in person, why do they interact so sub-optimally while writing?

I'd say Richard is in fact conversing with consideration, and more importantly with meticulous details. I've seen no one respond to emails in such detail. Many of us have the tendency to respond to the "greater picture" (forest instead of trees). And to quote Mike: I find Richard mostly understanding and quite concerned about putting the interlocuter in the best of lights – giving their question or statement the best possible rendering and response. In some cases he will use a similar prodding method to jar someone – but normally only once they have demonstrated an obstinacy in looking into something for themselves or possibly after stating some absurdity (he is in a sense, ‘playing their game’).

It is this meticulousness that warrants the avoidance of any mellifluous linguistic coating (either with the addition of mincing words, or being indirect in conveying sensitive facts, or altogether avoiding the stating of the fact) we put in our own online interactions. Personally, again and again - I found this to be a communication disadvantage when reading some responses I receive.

Surbhi said...

in other words, if Richard was given to mincing his words, we would be receiving a watered down version and will find it difficult to challenge our notions etc. Personally, i find his style very conducive to suss out everything. I am not concerned about the words, but meaning that they contain; not concerned with the tone but the result these dialogues bring. And they help towards intellectual understanding of the subject as well. What is discomforted via these dialogues is often my own sense of identity and conditioning.

I am a feeling human being and so are others , i can minimize the hurt i cause myself and others by minimizing these feelings and peeling off the layers of identity which cover my actuality. But all of this does not have to be some kind of a mechanical and insipid exercise, rather a fun activity and satisfying experience as i am making the world a better place for myself and those who come in contact with me.

And none of it means that I clone and FOLLOW Richard or anyone , nor does it involve being skeptical to the point of absurdity about Actualism. I am taking from it, what i need and require to be free of all my emotional roller rides. I wish to live life- factum, that life is living and that is the meaning of it, rest is peripheral, artifact and even dross.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@surbhi

in other words, if Richard was given to mincing his words, we would be receiving a watered down version and will find it difficult to challenge our notions etc.

I can't believe (but I can, since I was there as well) that such cognitive dissonance can exist regarding what is evident, but, such is life.

Here's a good example of Mr Richard giving it to someone who is asking a sincere question:

--
BANCE: Richard, I was sleeping last night and having some dream and I got the sense that something was gonna happen and something
was happening and I got this tightening feeling in the back of my head and at the top of my neck. Its still there almost 5 hours
later. Right about where the back of the head curves down to the neck. This happened at about 3:20am. I woke up instantly and it was like my friend, who I was, was gone. But I am still very much here but perhaps in a different way. So far it feels like something
has changed but nothing has changed. Make sense? Maybe not. I could elaborate but I will let some time pass. Anyways, since you are an expert in these affairs, perhaps you could tell me what you make of it, if anything.

# What I would suggest, at this stage, is to ask the American Indian, Mayan, Incan, Aboriginal, or any other from such an uprooted,
extinct or rubbed-out indigenous culture and peoples you referred to in another e-mail(*), as that person, having already become
actually free from the human condition long before I did will have far more expertise than I do as I have only been apparent for a
little over a decade now.

It is your call.

Regards,
Richard.

(*)[Bance]: ‘... how can Richard or anyone know whether there was not some American Indian, Mayan, Incan, Aboriginal or any other
from such an uprooted, extinct or rubbed-out indigenous culture and peoples who hadn’t accomplished the very same thing? (‘Re:
Naivete’; Fri 21/11/03 6:29 AM).
--

Bend over backwards defending this "benevolent" and "benign" response.

Harmanjit Singh said...

A4 (contd): It is easier to make a mistake about someone's intentions in the absence of non-verbal cues, and mostly we err on the side of uncharitable speculation. Mostly we assume the intention is worse than it is. Why is that?

Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

Harman: A4 (contd): It is easier to make a mistake about someone's intentions in the absence of non-verbal cues, and mostly we err on the side of uncharitable speculation. Mostly we assume the intention is worse than it is. Why is that?

Any ideas?

My idea: When it is "others" that we are dealing with, we assume that they don't have best of intentions towards us because they are "others", the unknown, the dark. It has to come out in light (as in verbal cues) for us to see it as more wholesome.

Ketan said...

I agree with all the reasons you'd provided in your blog post.

May I add, I was extremely impressed with your reasoning you provided for your first question? :)

For the first question itself on thinking a bit further I felt, one more reason could be that whenever one attends a phone call while driving, the phone conversation is supposed to last very briefly, whereas one with the co-passenger is supposed to be long-winded and not very focused. On the other hand, the phone conversation may have a very fixed agenda.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Extremely pertinent article about online flame wars:

http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/58706/sec_id/58706

Harmanjit Singh said...

Vindication of A3 hypothesis from a comment (of the above referenced New English Review article) at

http://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_direct_link.cfm/blog_id/26196

Neville Stern: "A parallel here in my opinion is road rage, which seems to take place mostly when participants are moving and jostling to get ahead, get home, or get that parking space before the next competitor. Often when cars are stationary, and one can therefore inspect the other driver's face - the whites of their eyes, so to speak - everyone behaves more politely, as for example allowing another car room to merge from a side street into stalled traffic. If that car were suddenly to cut in while the stream was already moving, the response would be entirely different: the players are their cars now, not the person behind the wheel, and the conflict is impersonal and thus brutal."