- Why is talking on the cellphone while driving considered so dangerous, while talking to a fellow passenger is considered safe?
- Why are letter/email-driven love affairs, chat friendships, internet personals landscape such bad bets at finding a reasonably compatible mate?
- 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?
- Why do flame wards erupt more easily in written communication than in face-to-face discussions?
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.