Daily Archives: July 15, 2007

The funny thing about communication.

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Joel wrote about how people think about him when he’s using a communication device versus when he’s speaking, in You Must Not Want Company. One remark made was that when someone’s using a communication device, they obviously want to communicate or they wouldn’t be using it. I wanted to write a bit about when I’m communicating but not speaking or using a communication device.

I’ve had a few different friends remark that they were sort of amused by something about me. That was, that they could go for half an hour to an hour of having a conversation or other interaction with me, before noticing that I wasn’t actually talking or typing at all.

One of them was a friend where whenever she visited me (we lived near each other for awhile, now we’ve both moved away) we’d just sit there for awhile without talking to each other, but certainly greeting and interacting with each other. Another is a friend I now live near, who commented recently to someone else that she’s often shocked when she notices that she’s been carrying on a long conversation with someone who isn’t saying anything back, and that it feels totally natural.

It feels totally natural to me when it happens, too. It’s less tiring than coming up with words is, that’s for certain, or than listening to words. It doesn’t cause that awful feeling of exhaustion, pain, and pressure that entirely word-based interactions eventually and inevitably cause. It allows me to actually participate in non-verbal communication rather than being blocked out of it by language (and yes, one tends to block out the other, either way). And the interaction feels a lot more meaningful to me.

Another situation is when I truly can’t move, or can’t respond in other ways (even if able to move). I am automatically fearful when that happens, because some of the worst interactions in my life have been when this has happened, whether this be the kid in college who used to hurt me to try to snap me out of it, or the psych ward staff who used it as a bizarre excuse to tie me down and scream at me (question: When someone is so stiff that you can pick them up by their hands and the rest of their body stays rigid in a sitting position, why do they need to be any further immobilized than they already are?).

I have had two surprisingly good experiences with this recently. One of them was at AutCom last year, when I was exhausted after giving my talk, heading into another bad migraine, leaning against a wall, and not frozen but not able to respond or even focus my eyes properly. The staff person of one of the other attendees came up to me and talked to me, and I realized it was one of the first times that a stranger had talked naturally to me when I was like that, as if they were fully aware I could understand them. That meant a lot to me. Another was after those darned fireworks, when my friend explained to my other friend that freezing like that did not mean that I was unaware of things, but rather than I was likely more aware of things than usual. That’s something a lot of people never understand.

Joel is another person I’ve had a lot of fun with without necessarily talking all the time. Although the two of us can type up a storm together too. (When we first met, we put a laptop on a table, hooked an extra monitor and keyboard to it, and typed back and forth on it for hours.)

I wonder what it is that makes the difference between the people who experience enough communication from me that they forget that I’m not typing or speaking, and the people who forget that I’m there at all because I’m not typing or speaking.

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