Archive for February 1st, 2008

When We Touch

Friday, February 1st, 2008

I’m still thinking about Schwern’s post and the following line:

Touch is powerful, but complicated and we usually don’t employ it

The first part I agree with, touch is indeed powerful. I agree less with the second part, as touch is not always complicated. It’s the third part that surprises me. We use touch all the time when we communicate face-to-face. How often we touch and what is considered appropriate touching is cultural.

A few examples. People may touch when they meet. In the West we shake hands, hug or kiss. People touch at the end of conversations – again they may shake hands or maybe pat each other on the back. People touch during conversations by lightly touching someone’s arm or leg.

As I said the degree of permissible touching depends on where you came from. It was really funny for me to watch Marty’s Dad touch an elderly Japanese man on the train. Marty’s Dad was thanking the man for moving over and giving him a seat. He touched the man without even thinking about it. The Japanese man looked as if someone had just groped him. So there is no doubt that what touching means is open to debate but it still happens all the time.

My Japanese friends have been shocked when I have told them that I have been kissed on the cheek in the office by a business associate. For them that seems overly sexual. To me it’s just a greeting from a colleague and completely sexless.

I was wondering if Schwern was writing about touching in a specific context – that of geeks communicating with geeks. But that still doesn’t make sense to me. I am considered by many to be a geek and Schwern touches me when we chat face-to-face. So maybe it’s just another one of the things we do during face-to-face communication that we aren’t quite aware of. But we shouldn’t discount it, as touch is something that helps us connect with the people we are talking to in a way that can’t easily be replicated when communicating remotely.

Smells A Bit Odd…

Friday, February 1st, 2008

I was reading the most recent post on geek2geek. In it Schwern discusses face-to-face communication and suggests that video communication is almost as effective. There was quite a bit in the post that I didn’t agree with but for now I’m going to focus on just one aspect of it.

Once those are accounted for, what’s left? Smell? Touch is powerful, but complicated and we usually don’t employ it.

Why is smell such an overlooked sense? Schwern discounts it as quickly as it takes to type it but it is important and does have an impact on face-to-face communication. Most people are aware that body language plays an important part in how we communicate with each other. They are aware but that doesn’t mean that they consciously understand the body language. The sense of smell is similar. For some people, like me, it’s really important, yet some other people are not aware at all that smell can affect how they are feeling.

We use the sense of smell to gather information about the environment around us. This includes information about the person we are talking to. We all have our own unique smell (though some researchers think that identical twins smell the same) and we can recognise our parents, siblings and friends by their smell. We can actually smell fear and apparently we can also smell happiness.

People differ by how important each sense is to them. NLP practitioners believe you can tell how important each sense is by the metaphors that people use when they are speaking. For example people who rely more on their sight use phrases like “you brightened up my day”. And using phrases like “code smell” at least suggests that geeks are aware of smell in some way.

The sense of smell has been important to me since the first time I realised that I felt safe in my parent’s bedroom because it smelt like my mother. Or how happy I can feel in a friend’s apartment because it smells of someone I care about. I know that I can feel dislike towards a person who smells of stale alcohol because it triggers childhood memories I would rather forget. I also know that I can be influenced or distracted by a man who smells really good.

I can also tell when Marty is sick by how he smells. Maybe you are wondering why that would have an effect on how we communicate? When someone is feeling unwell they are much more likely to be short-tempered. Being able to tell that he isn’t quite himself means that I am much more understanding if he snaps at me. I also know that he is much more likely to get annoyed if I am not clear in what I am saying to him – and there are so many times when I don’t make myself clear when I am talking.

But even if we are not aware of how a sense effects us when we are communicating removing it will take away from the experience.