Wednesday, August 23
A friend of mine was recently at a major conference for his discipline, which included a number of one-on-one conversations with people that stretched well beyond his genuine-interest attention span. He's been worried that in such conversations he loses focus and his uninterest becomes more obvious than he would like. So he came up with a strategy for it this year that he's been going on about ever since.

What he does first is to imagine some ludicrously hideous thing he could say to the other person. The point is not that it's anything he wants to say or thinks is true; indeed, he claims it's better if it's not. The key thing is that it has to be something that, were he to say it out loud, would certainly ruin his relationship with the other person, and very possibly his career. Knowing him, my guess is that it's usually something over-the-top sexual, perhaps involving livestock.

Then, as the other person is talking, not only does he think this thought over and over again, but he imagines trying to project the thought into the other person's mind using some hitherto undiscovered telepathic power. All that while, he maintains the appearance to the other person like they are having a normal, friendly conversation and gives no indication that he is really devoting all of his mental energy to trying to communicate some sick message to them by extrasensory means. Even though this ultimately means he's listening to the person even less than when he was merely bored, he's convinced he now does a better job of looking like he's paying attention, because this makes appearing to be an attentive listener an active challenge.

His other goal, of course, is to have some moment in which the other person gets a puzzled, disturbed, and confused look on her/his face that would indicate that he had succeeded in breaching the brainwave communication barrier for a brief moment, but so far he reports no success in that regard. Then again, he has a few decades of meetings ahead of him during which he can hone his technique.

I'm thinking about trying it, but I'm worried I'll have trouble not laughing. Or looking deranged. Or, worst of all: deranged laughter.


fraud, in denim said...

I'd definitely be afraid I'd laugh.. or that it would slip out unintentionally. Eek!

Sulphur Siren said...

Um..this happens to me involuntarily...followed by smirking smart ass expressions and snickering. It definitely does not make me look interested in what the other person is saying. In fact, I have had people stop in mid-sentence to ask me what is so funny.

Clearly my telepathy is underdeveloped if they have to ask.


twilight blue said...

I have indulged in variations of this trick when I am feeling bored by an egregiously bad talk. Either I try to imagine the most outrageous thing that the person giving the talk could say (e.g., in the conclusions to the paper) or I imagine a member of the audience asking a horribly inappropriate question (and what would ensue).
It kinda makes me wish that I was the student of Garfinkle or Milgram, back in the glory days of sociology when people got to behave badly in public spaces and then publish their observations of what happened next (and what that tells us about interaction rituals and the like).
In any case, Scarlet, the attempt at telepathy is a nice twist. Thanks!! I'll be sure to let you know if I get any promising results!

kodachrome said...

As someone who already gets in trouble for not paying attention and for laughing inappropriately, I have to say, Scarlet, that I’m kinna skeptical of this game. I think it’s going to get me into trouble and I really don’t want to lose any friends-- or piss off any powerful people by blurting out stuff about farm animals and following with a lame reference to Orwell. So I think I should practice first. If you could all please clear your minds. What I mean is, Don’t Think of anything. … shh…

Did it work? Well I don’t know about you, but I definitely flunked ‘cause, (a) I can’t stop laughing, and (b) I have this image in my head of the last person I couldn’t listen to with a big red elephant. Lucky for me (and no thanks to Scarlet) they’re just dancing.

Navy Blue Blob said...

Sounds a bit too dangerous to me. Personally, I would rather work on strategies to extract myself from such conversations.

PS. Sulphur, cool image!

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