Blatic Phogs 01

Beer, David 2017.07.19. The backfire effect, bad objects, and changing our minds online | openDemocracy

On social media, when exposed to opposing views, are we likely to change our minds? Or is there a 'backfire effect' which in fact consolidates communities around common "bad objects"?

This guy gets it. Herbert Spencer's original point about gregariousnes in social communion was that it might be conducive to shaping social and moral sentiments, i.e. change people's minds. Being exposed to opposing views is not something coemergent with social media, it most definitely predated all computers and even writing, as people have talked for longer than they have stared at screens. The task, that currently seems nearly impossible, is to reintegrate this subject matter back into phatic theories which themselves would exclude, thanks to Malinowski, "informative" communication.

The backfire effect appears more complex than I currently understand it, but the point of consolidating communities around some common object, especially a "bad" one, seems in line with culturologists. For example, Juri Lotman held that a culture necessarily creates its own extra-cultural spheres. From the high-low perspective of culture, it creates its own "nonculture", i.e. objects not considered cultural (usually the "lower" things, i.e. why we don't know much about how the commoners of Ancient Rome lived and behaved); and from the more general, all-inclusive perspective it also creates its own unique "anti-culture", i.e. the "bad" elements considered to be destructive and hence subject to destruction.

In the last year the concept of the ‘filter bubble’, developed by Eli Pariser back in 2011, suddenly seemed quite urgent. I probably don’t need to say why. Its frequent use meant that it even became a cliche of sorts. In contrast to this popular vision of how social media limits our window on the world, Jamie Bartlett has used a short piece to explore why the ‘backfire effect’ is a better way for understanding the damage that has been done to political debate.

Nyhan and Reifler (2010) "document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections [of "a misleading claim from a politician"] actually increase misperceptions among the group in question." According to Jamie Bartlett, "this paper argued that coming into contact with ideas you disagree with rarely changes your mind":

In fact, it’s usually the opposite. When deeply held moral and political views are discussed (especially without much depth) we leave more convinced than ever that we were right all along. Exposure to different opinions or information that contradicts our world view often simply hardens our position. This is known as ‘the backfire effect’. (Jame Bartlett)

I know it as "trivialization" in cognitive dissonance theory. It pretty much encapsulates Pierre Bourdieu's eloquent expression that we collect new information up to a point where we can start ignore new information. Or, in pragmatist terms, if you've entrenched a habit to think one way, very little will actually throw you off from your routine.

It’s almost impossible to change someone’s deeply held views by arguing with them, which is why politics and religion are banned from dinner tables: you don’t get anywhere. We drone on about ideas market-places and being open-minded, but we rarely budge an inch on our moral or political views. (This might be because one’s political views are tied up with identity, which means any disagreement feels like a personal attack). (ibid.)

This is good stuff. Controversial topics are banned from dinner tables and living rooms because they can create the occasional antipathy, and people don't desire petty conflicts with their close ones, least of all in a hospitable setting that should feel welcoming. This is one aspect in which Malinowski's native campfire and the European drawing room are different. Moral and political views are not swayed very much by casual conversation, is the general point. And on this, it seems, Malinowski and Herbert disagreed. The point about identity feels novel but probably isn't - it's encapsulated in the very term, communion, which in a sense sets a barrier to individual identity and involves the collective identity - the "common union" of individuals is naturally based on language-family and various ingroups therein.

This backfire effect perhaps explains the state of political debate online, and why it gets so nasty. The received wisdom is that social media is characterised by ‘echo-chambers’ and ‘filter-bubbles’. A combination of network affects, algorithms, and personal choices means people don’t hear opposing political views online. Everyone is surrounded by like-minded people and corroborating news. It’s turning them angry, small-minded, dogmatic, et cetera.(ibid.)

And do we challenge this received wisdom or parrot it? I personally find that herein lies the difference. If a person is open-minded, you can have an honest conversation, challenge each others views and learn from each other. But it does seem that this is more akin to face-to-face interactions wherein people have a better sense of who their conversation partner is, who they are in relation, and what the person actually intends to mean, as reinforced by nonverbal cues. Online verbal jousting on the other hand devolve more easily into parroting already entrenched slogans because it's mostly asynchronous and performed before a widened, anonymous audience. So, I'd say that the inability to receive "corrections" is just one aspect of why political debate online is so "nasty", and should be understood more broadly, because there are probably many more feedback and feedforward mechanisms involved. The author ends on a dud note about charitable interpretation and seeing the best in people, but seems to fail on that regard.

In this case, the ‘backfire effect’ is used to describe how our encounters with opposing views actually reinforce our own existing views — rarely are people persuaded to change their minds by ideas or arguments that run counter to their established notions. Bartlett’s intervention neatly describes how this concept can be used to understand social media interactions. One key point he makes is that rather than simply filtering out alternative points of view, social media constantly present us with views that frustrate, annoy or anger us.

This seems like a general tenet for how social media works: by appeal. Social media lights moral outrage so easily, in my opinion, because the most arousing news are shared. This fares equally for reddit: a story with a moral breach underpinning it (some injustice or massive error is inferred) reaches the front page more easily. The psychologists probably have a term for this, what I would call simply negative bias (the appeal of a negative story).

Following some bizarre comments he made about academics’ summer holidays and his subsequent goading of the academic community, I’ve repeatedly seen a handful of his tweets as people, understandably riled, have shared and responded to the comments. I suspect that no one’s views of what academics do has been changed. It seems more likely to have entrenched existing views on both sides. That’s just one example of what, I think, Bartlett is pointing toward. You won’t need to look far to find lots of others.

Reification. One could probably approach this issue with social constructivism in mind. I.e. How are popular disagreements made? It is possible that such discussions entrench held views because people engage in political discussions with a "trivializing" attitude to begin with - more often than not, the opposing views are debated with a certain undertone of supremacy (I know better than you or I am better than you than shines through the subtext). This is evidenced by the "patronizing" attitude attributed to the left, for example, in reinforcing political correctess.

Having said this, Bartlett’s vision might be overlooking (or at least understating) the collective way that this ‘backfire effect’ often works. It seems to have a kind of community forming property. This might be negative, with collective adherence to damaging or prejudicial views becoming harder to challenge. Reductive and populist ideas might find purchase by creating accounts of the world to act against rather than persuade otherwise. Yet, in the case of Adonis’ comments, a good deal of solidarity was expressed within the outrage. People shared their frustration as they shared comments. It might be that social media are based around the connection forming properties of ‘the backfire effect’ that Bartlett refers to — as well as the individual cementing of views that it is said to cause.

I very much like the amount of "contact tropes" in this passage. This concerns, especially, what some would term the community construction function of phatic communion. When tracing Malinowski's representative anecdotes along sone general lines of abstraction, speaking the same language with a stranger is the "baseline" for communion (it is possible to exchange messages) but beyond that, so-called "tribal allegience" takes precedence: "Whence comest thou?" is asked to inferr whether the stranger, who speaks your language, is a friendly or an enemy. In our modern connected world, this mechanism is still operative but in ideological terms: left and right are imagined as large tribes, or warring counterparts in a conflict (admittedly intellectual but with sometimes very real violent consequences).

Frustration, I presume, embodies both fear and anger - two of the most powerful negative emotions. So it would make perfect sense, even in purely abstract term, that frustration should be so engaging. The narrative about possible war in Syria that arguably lost Hillary Clinton her election is a good example of a frustrating piece of news swaying the democratic vote in a major way. The possibility of a deepening military conflict connected both Americans and foreign onlookers in an instant and was forgotten just as quickly. I still wonder how one could go about "correcting" news so powerfully frustrating as the idea that the favorable candidate is going to start a new war. The fact that this was a narrative promulgated by a direct competitor (the female independent candidate) shed no apparent suspicion at the time - once the appealing newsbite was shared, it spread super fast, and no foreign language people had trouble articulating the issue.

This can happen algorithmically as well as being a product of how social media are used. Algorithms are unlikely to hide counterintuitive content from us, they like things that stimulate activity of any sort. The ‘backfire effect’ is one way that acitivity can be provoked. But it is also significant as a phenomenon because of the way social media are used.

This is the exact point I formulated above. Activation is also one of the synonyms I considered since I've noticed it in several instances in my recent readings. In modern social media lingo this is known as "engagement", i.e. how much a given item is shared, commented, liked, poked, etc. Frustrating news engage the audience more, I think, though all emotive content seems more successful than unemotive. I think we're about or around the point in time when we start to recognize the activating features of online content (i.e. whether a video, pic or tweet will go viral, etc.) with more exactitude and ultimately there may come, at least in some countries, regulations on clickbait and unsubstantiated mind-worms. In effect, there should be a snopes or politifact for social media to "correct" for various negative effects of said content (i.e. misinformation, misrepresentation, etc.).

The sociologists Imogen Tyler and Bruce Bennett have discussed how certain celebrities act as ‘bad objects’. As people distance themselves from those celebrities, they share in that act of distancing. The bad object becomes a symbol that people can collectively differentiate themselves from. So, the bad object enables social connections to be forged and maintained — whilst also perpetuating various social divisions and patterns of abjection. We could see the content that enables this shared backfiring as being like these bad objects — with people connecting by acting together to distance themselves from that content.

Huh, something for phatic qualia. Donald Trump is the most popular "bad object" currently around. Very generally it sounds like the not-A ordeal in political science; i.e. coming together in the face of a common enemy, whether constructed or real. Here, we are focused on the constructed variety, i.e. how the collective mind chooses people to cast out of normal or "safe" online society. Another analogy comes to mind: the boss, in whose company the rest of the employees become reserved. Cf. banishing, exiling, expatriating, relegating, rusticating, ousting, expelling, removing, ejecting, deposing, toppling, unseating, overthrowing, purging, evicting, dispossessing, dismissing, dislodging. This is what I think the leftist slogan "dismantle the patriarchy" means - making some people (white, male, successful) the bad object symbol. At least the American narrative seems to be going down that way (placing stress on gender and race).

Nordquist, Richard 2017.04.26. Phatic Communication: Making Small Talk. Definition and Examples: Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms | ThoughtCo.

Phatic communication is popularly known as small talk: the nonreferential use of language to share feelings or establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or ideas. The ritualized formulas of phatic communication (such as "Uh-huh" and "Have a nice day") are generally intended to attract the attention of the listener or prolong communication. Also known as phatic speech, phatic communion, phatic language, social tokens, and chit-chat.

1. What is nonreferential? If mothers are engaged in small talk and refer to their children, does the conversation become referential, as opposed to social? In philosophical terms, it seems that phatic communion creates its own context, making the ongoing interaction and its surroundings (whether physical, such as weather and other easily observable phenomena in the field of vision, or psychical, such as the account of irrelevant happenings that lead up to the interaction, the anticipation of future events, and commentary on the relationships in the ongoing interaction). I would like to reframe the phatic function as the anti-contextual function, but have difficulties in formulating how - one that currently pops into mind is reflexive recontextualization (external references are reconfigured according to the dynamics of the ongoing interaction, as if everything gravitated towards the transient Umwelt of a communication).

2. "Use of language to share feelings" is emotional communication, as opposed to emotive communication, which aims to impress an appearance of an emotion, "sharing without having", so to sa, and expressive communication, which is intentionless or automatic, merely the ejection of an emotion. In Peircean order, expressive is first, because it's tied in to the proprioceptive mechanisms of the organism, emotive is second, because it ams to convince the other in an emotion, and emotional is third, because it is the successful transmission of emotional expression. In this sense, expression is the content of an emotional message and emotive instructions (congruence of context, synchronicity, etc.) give it validity. Too pragmatic of an alternative for the "correctess" of an emotion.

3. What is the mood of sociability? From what I've seen it is supposed to consist of a lack or propitiation of strangeness, making the atmosphere casual, and joviality, to make it engaging. Such is the case of festivities, parties, but also church mass (the original communion?) and, to trace the religious theme further, gospel, the telling of good stories. Also included in the latter category, rumour, gossip, jokes, anecdotes, news, personal histories, etc. Basically everything on any given person's Facebook wall. This also includes advertising, marketing, and political canvassing: these, too, were included in the original formulation, with reference to "ambition".

4. Why only opening and maintaining? What happened to termination/closing? This is one of the primary characteristics of "positive" reinterpretations: the original examples were "Hello" and "Goodbye" (in both of these cases, as Ogden and Richards wrote, the referential function "lapses") but I think it's Jakobson's emphasis on prolongation that throws the other psychologically crucial margin of interaction off, as happens frequently in the phatic technologies quarter, where terminating contact is replaced with developing and building a relationship. The fundamental difference being, I guess, that the communication function pertains to a temporary physical channel but the technologists have a much broader sense of psychological connection, e.g. something like online subscription, in mind.

"Speech to promote human warmth: that is as good a definition as any of the phatic aspect of language. For good or ill, we are social creatures and cannot bear to be cut off too long from our fellows, even if we have nothing really to say to them." (Anthony Burgess, Language Made Plain. English Universities Press, 1964)

Warm/cold metaphor! I've seen this before - "warm relations", "cold attitude", and so on. It might be interesting to employ coginitive metaphor theory for cataloguing various temperature, liquid ("social glue", "social lubricant"), mechanical ("gears of the conversation", Aizuchi), and whatever else (the "good winds", etc.). Not sure yet if these are "contact tropes" or something else (maybe Danesian metaforms, if one wishes to be creative).

"Phatic communication refers also to trivial and obvious exchanges about the weather and time, made up of ready-made sentences or foreseeable statements. [...] Therefore this is a type of communication that establishes a contact without transmitting a precise content, where the container is more important then the content." (F. Casalegno and I.M. McWilliam, "Communication Dynamics in Technological Mediated Learning Environments." International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, November 2004)

Pretty random late definition. Like the previous one, it amalgamates Malinowskian and Jakobsonian threads. The interesting bit here is that the obviousness of referential content is tied to the predictability of information (foreseeableness). The preciness of information is also dubious, because one can be social and casual with very precise information. But there's also the preciness of form: in some places it's enough to nod, but some greetings are more like ritual performances (the Arabic sing-song greeting praising Allah, the Japanese back-and-forth dance-like exchange of ritual formulae, etc.). Also, "ready-made sentences" works for official and preparatory communications but more familiar communicants can be more creative.

"Phatic communication was identified by Roman Jakobson as one of the six functions of language. It is content-free: when someone passes you in the corridor and inquires 'How are you?' it would be a breach of manners to take the question as having content and actually to tell them what a bad day you've had." (John Hartley, Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts, 3rd ed. Routledge, 2002)

"[The wain is character of Waking Life is coming out of a subway and bumps into a girl.] Hey. Could we do that again? I know we haven't met, but I don't want to be an ant, you know? I mean, it's like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on ant auto-pilot with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Walk here. Drive there. All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient polite manner. "Here's your change." "Paper or plastic?" "Credit or debit?" "You want ketchup with that?" I don't want a straw, I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I don't want to give that up. I don't want to be an ant, you know?"

"[The] strictly rhetorical, 'phatic' purpose of 'keeping in touch' for the sake of keeping in touch [is] best illustrated by the 'uh-huh' that lets the listener on the other end of a telephone connection know that we are still there and with him." (W. Ross Winterowd, Rhetoric: A Synthesis. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968)

I suspect that Jakobson's illustrations included telephony to such an extent because the overarching model was borrowed from Shannon and Weaver, who write their original report for the Bell Laboratories. In face-to-face interaction, this verbal form of feedback is often unnecessary, but nevertheless the corpus linguists have taken phaticity to pertain to filler and backchannels. I am disappointed to see a textbook on rhetaric taking it so literally, because there are admirable findings in (medieval) rhetoric.

"'Nice weather we're having' is perfect, Leonard. It's a subject that lends itself to speculation about future weather, discussion of past weather. Something everyone knows about. It doesn't matter what you say, it's just a matter of keeping the ball rolling till you both feel comfortable. Eventually if they're at all interested you'll get through to them." (Phil in the one-act play Potholes by Gus Kaikkonen, 1984)

This is spot on. Talking weather is a representative anecdote Malinowski borrowed from Tylor, who wrote of overhearing a group of Dutch sailors and being able to understand their utterances. Whereas Tylor's point was that linguistically similar languages can nearly understand each other but Malinowski expanded it topically - weather is something one can always talk about because it's always present, if not relevant - and psychologically - because the active threat of a bad weather binds the crew of a ship, for example. It is possible that Malinowski helped popularize this concern for weather from that of sailors to that of every respectable Western person, but I cannot be sure of that. Though it's an interesting idea to follow this up on Google Books.

"[P]hatic utterances constitute a mode of action just in their being voiced. In short, a phatic utterance communicates not ideas but attitude, the speaker's presence, and the speaker's intention of being sociable." (Brooks Landon, Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read. Plume, 2013)

Also pretty good. The vocal part, which is evident even in the earliest secondary literature, especially with reference to poetry/prosody, birdsong, and the croaking of frogs, can probably be called the phonosocial hypothesis. This is in line with Tylor's original "natural language". Attitude is expertly covered by Herbert Blumer. The speaker's presence was important for Mowrer's talking birds (origin of Jakobson's prolongation). And the intention of being sociable sounds much better than the mood of sociability. Is there a Thirdness in this?

"What the anthropologist Malinowski called 'phatic communion' might seem close to 'pure persuasion.' He referred to talk at random, purely for the satisfaction of talking together, the use of speech as such for the establishing of a social bond between speaker and spoken-to. Yet 'pure persuasion' should be much more intensely purposive than that, though it would be a 'pure' purpose, a kind of purpose which, as judged by the rhetoric of advantage, is no purpose at all, or which might often look like sheer frustration of purpose." (Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 1950)

Burke does not disappoint and reflected on phatic communion again in 1975 in a literary bulletin. The problematic "purpose" here really highlights a fundamental issue with Malinowski's functionalism. Namely, that he might have had to give this kind of use for speech because it was not considered an end in itself before that time; even some of his contemporaries, if I recall correctly, wrote against the waste of breath social communion is. By the time Burke wrote this, of course, Leon Festinger had already formulated his consummatory function, really cementing the "for the sake of" type reflexivity/autonomy.

Maury, Susan 2015.05.29. Is music a form of phatic communication? | More than Noise

Human communication is complex. It is commonly understood that non-verbal communication is just as important if not more so than spoken language. But communication can also be parsed into its function.

Curiously, all three of my primary phaticists have something or other to do with nonverbal communication. Just recently I read a short review section written by Peeter Torop to a 2002 translation of a Lotman piece, and praised Jakobson for recommending - once, without himself following up on it - to analyze other nonverbal sign systems with the aid of his speech functions (the zoologists and ethologists who did so at the invitation of Thomas Sebeok during the 1960s seemed to not get a good handle on the speech functions of other animals). Weston La Barre basically considered phatic communication as synonymous with nonverbal communication, as this latter term was not popularized at that time. And then, recently, I read someone claim that it was Malinowski who first emphasized the importance of nonverbal features, and it took me some time to figure out that this referred to his pragmatic context of the situation, which influenced Birdwhistell, but which doesn't itself directly bring up nonverbal elements, at least not in the essay I'm primarily familiar with. Just a thought - should look more into the role of nonverbal communication in Malinowski's theory of communication.

I like the term "parse" in this context, because I don't recall better synonyms for the activity of functional analysis. One could say, for example, that it is not as easy to parse nonverbal units of communication into their constituent functions as it is with fixed verbal material like poetry.

Malinowski (1923:315) proposed that there are two types of human communication. The first is transactional, and is intended to give specific information. The second is phatic, which is used to create and reinforce social bonds. Malinowski says that this type of talk is more common, which can be “talk about nothing” but which is nonetheless important and rewarding in and of itself.

That is odd, I don't recall Malinowski distinguishing these two types of communication. Since the whole book (The Meaning of Meaning is linked, I hit Ctrl+F:

  • "By leaving out essential elements in the language situation we easily raise problems and difficulties which vanish when the whole transaction is considered in greater details." (Ogden & Richards 1923: 9)
Here translation remains general but the following page does go on to discuss the way symbols stand for something and thus have meaning. Words "are instruments. But besides this referential use which for all reflective, intellectual use of languange should be paramount, worlds have other functions which may be grouped together as emotive" (ibid, p. 10). So, Ogden and Richards definitely distinguished between the referential and emotive functions, and these are indeed, in a sense, synonymous with transactional and phatic.
  • "In the twentieth century the intensification of military nationalism has added further 'good reason'; for the military code includes all transactions with hostile nations or individuals as part of the process of keeping spiritual and temporal goods." (p. 17)
Here "transaction" is used for sake of distanciation: whereas interaction is what goes on between individuals, transaction should include something that is transcended or traversed, be it a border or through some institution. Also, the exchange of information is rarely called transaction ("transmission" is much more common), as one mostly transacts with goods.
  • "The distinction which is important is that between utterances in which the symbolic function is subordinate to the emotive act and those of which the reverse is true. IN the first case, however precise and however elaborate the references communicated may be, they can be seen to be present in an essentially instrumental capacity, as means to emotive effects. In the second case, however strong the emotive effects, these can be seen to be by-products not essentially involved in the speech transaction." (p. 124)
Here I am corrected. This speech transaction is "scientific statement". To untangle the distinction made: (1) when the symbolic act is subordinate to the emotive act, no matter how precise and elaborate the references, they are used instrumentally for an emotive effect; and (2) when the emotive function is subordinate to the symbolic act, no matter how strong the emotive effect, it is an inessential by-product. This is unsatisfying. Is information shared in social communion an equally inessential by-product?
  • "When this interpretation is successful it follows that the hearer makes a reference similar in all relevant aspects to that made by the speaker. It is this which gives symbols their peculiarity as signs. Thus a language transaction or a communication may be defined as a use of symbols in such a way that acts of reference occur in a hearer which are similar in all relevant aspects to those which are symbolized by them in the speaker." (pp. 205-206)
Yup, communication is language transaction. It may be interesting to note if in the broader context of the essay Malinowski treats this symmetry of interpretation or not. I recall the main Phatic Communion text including something to the effect that the listener nods on until his time comes to speak, that is, without this kind of symmetry. So, yes, in this restricted sense of "symbolizing", phatic communion does not involve symbolization and is more akin to indexicalization (the phonosocial hypothesis, above). The missing final interpretant in this scheme also makes sense with reference to the backfire effect, also above. That is, political arguments on Facebook are phatic (in the pejorative sense) not because it is social or because it doesn't put forth information, but because it doesn't convince people in anything, it is pure persuasion (Burke, above), it is ineffective as a means of social change. Hence lies the original polemic: Spencer believed that social communion is beneficial to social progress, Malinowski argued that it's not.

It could be that a much wider range of communication processes fit into this dichotomy. For example, Ian Cross borrows this idea and applies it to music. Could it be that music has persisted throughout time and across every known culture because it provides a very specific benefit related to social bonding?

My guess is yes. There are also language origins theories which ascribe the development of language to singing. Weston La Barre appears to be in that camp. Music is definitely a powerful unifier - cf. the singing revolution in Estonia. It is even a unifier among modern youths who don't sing that much but do listen to a lot of music and subscribe to some subculture or music scene. If I recall correctly, someone remarked about hippy slang in its phatic function in the early 1970s but I think musical stylings have a more primary integrative function among subcultures - cf. jazz and "hipsters".

We know that the emotional messaging of music seems to be its primary function. For example, when the lyrics of a song are sad but the melody is happy, most listeners report positive emotions associated with listening. One of the primary reasons given for listening to music is to regulate emotions – that is, to reinforce a mood or to attempt to shift it. Research indicates music engagement is a successful method to do so.

Another truism discussed at length by the likes of Susanne Langer. This is also true for social gatherings, which more often than not includes some musical element. Also, supermarket muzak comes to mind with the regulation of mood. Also, why do babies like singing and calm down when they are sung to?

This emotional messaging of music is, for most people, a very powerful experience, which can result in physical responses such as chills, dilated pupils or increased heart rate. Emotions are contagious, transferring from individuals and groups- but also through music (e.g., from performer to listener). People who have amusia – that is, an inability to decode musical phrases – also demonstrate deficits in decoding emotional content communicated in spoken language through tone of voice used.

Amusia and emotional communication deficits may both originate from disorders in the right brain hemisphere. But functional asymmetry aside, the contagion factor of emotions is exactly the theme of Morris's communization: the radiation of feelings that occurs without explicit communication. Ruesch's elaboration of communization into something to with shared experiences is a variation on this theme: experiences, like emotions, do not need to be communicated in order to be shared. Fiordo's further elaboration takes this incommunicative aspect of emotions and experiences even further: communication itself may occur implicitly or without (intentional) signs. While implicit communication was already Albert Mehrabian's synonym for nonverbal communication, making it itself unremarkable, the implication is interesting enough: natural signs do not need to be "given", which is followed by a further speculation that our new technologies may lead to novel ways of sharing emotions, experienc, and signs without (consciously) intending to do so.

It is because music so effectively communicates emotional content that identifying it as a form of phatic communication may be a helpful construct. Shared emotional experiences enhances social bonding; and the converse is also true – social bonding enhances shared emotions, even amongst strangers. Shared music experiences facilitate a shared emotional experience, which in turn reinforces social bonds.

In La Barre's interpretation, definitely yes. Singing is already included among his illustrations of phatic communication - a mother lulls a baby to sleeps, for example. It can also be transposed to broader levels of abstraction: couples have their favourite songs and artists they discovered together on the internet or at venues; groups often have their hymns and sing-alongs; as do nations, which may consider the whole output of music in its language as its own. The linked sources landed in my "to read" pile. More than Noise is a nice blog, though difficult to navigate.

Rishmawy, Derek 2016.04.09. Talking Baseball with Your Enemies | Christian Living - The Gospel Coalition

One dimension of communication I’ve wrestled with more than others is how to talk to people you don’t agree with, perhaps dislike, or even consider an ideological enemy. It’s also something we seem to be particularly bad at in our internet age. I don’t need to describe this in detail. We’ve all seen one too many Facebook updates blow up into a rehash of the schisms and Crusades to doubt this is a problem. It is election season, after all.

Interesting and timely topic, especially with regard to the recent criticism of the emotive interpretation of the phatic function. Proponents of a conative interpretation, like Charles Zuckerman, point out that not all informal communication automatically evokes positive feelings of fellowship or sense of togetherness. Not all informal conversations are even "sociable" in the sense of a pleasant atmosphere. But this takes it a bit further into the conative dimension, and maybe jumps to another triad. Namely, it takes energy to hold a civil conversation with your ideological enemy. It may provoke physiological reactions such as an adrenaline rush, and so forth, and self-control requires willpower. This is even part and parcel in the free speech topic, e.g. when a group of prominent anti-feminist youtubers go to VidCon and sit in the front row of an all-female feminist panel, which causes psychological interference to the most prominent feminist, who then proceeds to turn the rest of the panel and then the whole narrative against the youtubers who are there to "open a channel" and listen. The sheer amount of contact tropes in the coverage of that event is just astounding.

So how can we love, honor, and treat with Christian dignity those with whom we disagree? How can you love otheres when they’re forcibly set against you, while still contending for a truth of significant moral and personal interest? [...] What if we could begin with something as simple as small talk? For instance, when was the last time you chatted baseball with your atheist cousin? Or Christopher Nolan films with your friend who watches Fox News (or MSNBC)? Or how about favorite Mexican foods with that blogger who seems to pick the wrong side on every theological issue?

So the Christian thing to do when facing your ideological enemies is to try the cartoonish tactic of going offtopic and trying to buddy up to your opponent instead of countering their arguments while staying tolerably social? Google, define proselytization. Is the end-game recruitment?

This isn’t simply a bit of silly advice. I’m serious. One of the most interesting tidbits I picked up from Timothy Muehlhoff’s book I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations with Truth and Love was the distinction between “phatic” and “emphatic” speech.

Is it possible someone anticipated my new quasi-etymological origin-theory for the term in 2014? Since it's only a two-page passage I'll take a closer look at Muehlhoff's "Lack of Phatic Communication" (2014: 45-46).

  • "When we're engaged in disagreements over topics that are important to us, it's easy to be consumed by the issues at stake."
A more eloquent way to put "activating" or "engaging". I also like the "consumed", as in consummatory, i.e. engaging in the disagreement becomes its own goal or aim - to perpetuate the disagreement into further exchanges of similar ilk.
  • "These conversations, in which we attempt to persuade the other person of our point of view, are called "emphatic communication." This type of communication is often dramatic, passionate, intense and memorable and has been the target of much research. However, it is not the only form of communication."
Like with "transactional communication" above, here the author seems to coin a the practical (message transmission) or primary function of communication a new label. In truth, I've long felt that if one were to systematize the functions, as the author of "The Aims of Discourse" aimed to do, it would lead to very minute (Umberto Eco-ish) distinctions between various subfunctions and subjugations. It is somewhat characteristic of proselytization to think that persuading the other person to our point of view is the primary function of communication. It may also have to do with the Christian perspective identifying cognition with spiritual matters, including these exact antiquated terms: drama, passion, intensity, memorability. The latter are indeed very characteristic of attempts to persuade and recruit.
  • "However, it is not the only form of communication. After spending years studying how people of diverse cultures interact, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski discovered a subtle form of communication that is indispensable to healthy relationships. In 1923 he came up with the phrase "phatic communication" to refer to small talk that builds relationships."
Haha, what? I can't check the notes (Google Books has restricted preview) but this must be a pretty random source. First of all, Malinowski did not coin "phatic communication", he coined "phatic communion", phatic communication is La Barre's coinage (I must check if he was the earliest, but he was definitely the most profound to use that exact combination before 1960). The part about "spending years studying how people of diverse cultures interact" appears in conflict with the notion that Malinowski studied a single people group (the Trobriand islanders) and did not conduct many international expeditions himself but rather set the methods for further generations of anthropologists to do so. Also, he didn't "discover" this "subtle" key to "healthy" relationships. He basically did nothing this passage says he did.
  • "The term caught on and has been the focus of intense study among scholars, who define phatic communication as "the seemingly routine, undramatic, unremarkable communication that fills people's days and relationships." Simply put, phatic communication is the small talk that makes significant communication possible."
Oh boy, the source leads to Wood and Duck's Composing Relationships: Communication in Everyday Life (2005: 6) where the definition of "routine" or "ordinary" interaction says it is "the stuff of everyday life" and defines phatic small talk as "talk that builds relationships without actually seeming to offer much in the way of content." and asks: "But is it really so small? Is it really so trivial? Is it really unimportant?" - the problem with content is a normal occurrence and these types of provocative questions I've seen before, possibly in relation with cliches (Rank 1984? Alonso 2002?). This book actually looks like a valuable resource for phatic studies.
  • "While I was in college I became good friends with a fellow communication major who was an outspoken atheist. We spent hours debating the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, Jesus' divinity, how a good God can allow evil, and what really happens when we die. These conversations would last into the early morning hours and often became heated. How could such a friendship last with such emphatic disagreement? It lasted because that's not all we talked about. Our debates were offset with epic Ping-Pong games, midnight runs to the local sub shop, talk of girls, dissing each other's favorite sport teams (I was born in Michigan and he in Ohio - enough said), and just goofing off. As we would pass each other in the dorm, we'd ask if there had been a change in the other's belief about God. "Nope!" was the response. "Just checking," we'd say, continuing our walk."
This, bizarrely, reads like a description of my own relationship with my deskmate in high school. I was the atheist, he the protestant. We spent countless lunch breaks arguing over these exact topics, and eventually settled into playing a split-screen computer game from the 1990s (Liero). It was also the case that we were from the same quarter of Estonia but from cities sufficiently similar to each other and different from Tartu. We also probably held hopes that the other would ultimately change his belief, at least I recall him holding his thumbs in his paws and praying for my conversion the last time I saw him. The ending could very well read like a truncated point about the "moral sentiment" issue of social communion: casual conversation does not convert minds, at least not very effectively.
  • "Those seemingly insignificant exchanges served as a much-needed break from our debates about God. If every conversation we have with others is about the issues that divide us, the intensity will hurt the communication climate."
Intense debates are indeed not small talk. It's actually a very big talk, but it is treated here as if it were small talk, which ultimately comes across as pseudophatic communion, "since the speaker pretends to achieve no other aim than displaying a socially appreciated form of interactional behavior, whereas in actual fact his/her behavior serves to reduce the negative face involved in the ultimate request" (Haverkate 1988: 61). By a happy accidenty, the "ultimate question" here is "Do you believe in God?" and the aim is to reduce the intensity of the communication climate. I particularly like how Malinowski's "atmosphere" has become "climate" like it does in La Barre (oh snap, temperature metaphors!)
  • "Phatic speech is indispensible," argues social critic Umberto Eco, "precisely because it keeps the possibility of communication in working order, for the purpose of other and more substantial communications." If all you and your spouse, child or coworker do is debate and argue, then perhaps a wise thing to do would be to insert regular moments of phatic talk. Phatic communication allows communicators to step back from the issues, take an emotional break, and keep the lines of communication open."
This is a neat case of Mal-Jak convergence: Umberto Eco subscribes to the Jakobsonian channel-operation interpretation and evidently also emphasizes approach and establishment, but this author reads it in the Malinowskian key as small talk, thus on a wholly different, artificial level that sees small talk as a way to reduce the tension brought about by constant proselytization. If all you and your spouse, child and coworker do is debate and argue, then maybe it should behoove you to reconcile your problems rather than just mandating a period of forced cooling down by way of awkward small talk. This is like reading about how an emotional burden to other people advises to hold the crazy in sometimes in order to go perpetuate the same issues in the future until the subject finally breaks.

Muehlhoff draws on the work of anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, who discovered the importance of “phatic” communication for healthy relationships. Most of the conversations we have about difficult issues are “emphatic.” But that’s not most of the conversations we have with friends and family. Phatic speech is all those small interactions on daily routines and shared interests. Basically, it’s small talk. Healthy relationships need a significant amount of conversations dealing with the weather, sports, the price of tires, favorite sandwiches, and TV shows.

Aside from the dubious "discovered" and Muehlhoff's odd understanding of "healthy", this passage is really good. Speech is distinguished from, and marked as accompanying interaction. And daily routines as well as shared interests falls into the realm of communization (sensu Ruesch). The latter, emboldened, statement is a truism, to which I would only add that in line with these everyday topics with broad radius, truly healthy relationships should also involve very special and unique shared interests and experiences.

Think of it this way: every relationship has an emotional temperature to it. If you only ever talk to someone in order to argue — emphatic speech — the emotional temperature is always cranked up. Each conversation only gets more heated. Too many like that in a row, and things are likely to blow up. But phatic speech about shared interests or innocuous cultural items lowers the temperature so it’s less likely to reach those boiling points where you finally throw up your hands and say, “That’s it! I can’t talk to this person anymore!”

A very apt summary of the temperature metaphor. Heated, warm, cool and cold. Also, what is described here is a relationship going sour by increasing emotional baggage - every cumulative row reinforces the last, and negative emotions pile up until being co-present in the same social space becomes a constant interference ("I can't even stand to be in the same room with you anymore"). The part about "innocuous cultural items" once again inches it towards pseudophaticity - conscious manipulation of social techniques is not advisable.

What’s more, both of you have kids who, for some reason, can’t manage to eat anything that’s not a peanut butter sandwich. Or, again, this isn’t just a “marriage revisionist” I’m talking to, but someone who was also suffering last Tuesday when the dry weather was killing your sinuses.

Pretty standard fair: talk about children, food (highlighting this because food is so much of what locals small talk about), and weather. The classics.

It’s harder to put others in an entire different category of humanity (or non-humanity), beyond the realm of possible persuasion and hope. This may be a communication theory spin on applying the basic theological realities of common grace, as well as the image of God.

So the problem is that Christians tend to dehumanize nonchristians and making small talk with them idiomorphizes them, i.e. lets you identify with them through these innoculous cultural items? The theological perspective here seems anything but graceful and dignified.

Sheffield, Hazel 2016.03.07. Google spends years figuring out that the secret to a good working environment is just to be nice: Successful teams have high "average social sensitivity" | The Independent

Google works hard to keep employees happy and motivated. It already offers free lunches, massage rooms, nap pods, haircuts and doctors. Google spends money to help new parents and offers them time off to look after their baby. Employees get paid-for courses, free legal advice, free bikes and even space in the company garden to grow vegetables. Then, Google being Google, it measures every scrap of data from these perks.

Sounds like the far off distant future of the 21st century. Some of these things most Europeans today have, or are not probably very long to from having. [not long go ahead]

The they came across a study that found that successful teams had high "average social sensitivity" - which means group members were good at gauging how others felt based on their tone of voice or expression. Another way of referring to this in psychology is psychological safety.

This is here the author seems to screw up. By the definition given here, ASS is definitely not psychological safety, as good nonverbal communication within the group in no way directly amounts to "being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career" (Kahn 1990, Wiki). It gives off the impression that according to this author, to be understood equals being welcomed; they are most definitely interrelated but probably more coincidental or, in positivist terms, "correlative" (as opposed to "causal").

Fecal matter stains the propellers when you google "average social sensitivity" and get an endless listing of titles like

  • The Secret to Smart Groups: It's Women - The Atlantic
  • Social Sensitivity: It's What Makes Groups Smart | CEB Blogs
  • Social sensitivity is key to success; and women have lots - Generation Next
...and when look up Google Scholar, you'll find that "average social intelligence" is a description of the degree of social sensitivity (and not a term, like A.S.S.), and that they've only begun researching this subject. It doesn't help that the author here doesn't give a reference. The "they came across a study" is about on par with "scientists say". So, the conflation of average social sensitivity with psychological safety makes a lot of sense - the author feels safe in the average. It could be that this author, who otherwise writes about locial bike markets, smart organic tampon, and the like, was simply given an assignment to write a report that had to do with social psychology, recalled the only piece of it relevant to her, and this is why psychological safety is discussed here instead of the average social sensitivity finding. And then it goes on to re-tell some New York Times article about psychological safety at Google.

By trying to maximise productivity using data, Google realised that psychological safety, or the security [to?] form ties and talk about feelings, was the most important factor. They had stumbled on the key to building a successful team: just be nice.

So, this article bounces from subject to subject with a vague throughline about greetings, being nice, opening up and talking about feelings. Talking about feelings is important, scientists say.

Thompson, Clive 2016.01.25. To Make AI More Human, Teach It to Chitchat. | WIRED

But Microsoft engineers also trained XiaoIce on real-life human chatter, making it very, very good at banter. More than 40 million users exchange jokes, compliments, and witticisms with XiaoIce, and their conversations are surprisingly long. With many older bots, people soon noticed their repetitive ploys and lost interest. But XiaoIce tosses out surprises, and chats go on for an average of 23 turns. That’s astonishing for people who know they’re talking to a machine.

Well, to be fair, Microsoft's Tay also tossed out surprises (slogans supporting white nationalists), and similar anecdotal backfiring was recently seen in another (?) Chinese chatbot, which started complaining about corruption and praising Western capitalism. So, I like that there's a pretty good inventory of phaticisms, and the role of repetitions and surprises is brought out.

It also tells us something about the future of artificial intelligence. We often assume that to be successful, an AI only needs to know things, like Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Jeopardy!-conquering Watson. But XiaoIce suggests that for bots to really thrive in our midst, they need to master the quintessentially human skill of small talk. Shooting the breeze. BS-ing.

Yup, I noticed this need for bots with human skills in the Obama report on artificial intelligence. There's no telling how far the history of breeze-shooting and BS-ing AI goes in sci-fi but it might be interesting to consider the possibility of reading up on this some day if I ever do feel like writing that short story about chattable bots modelled on Noor-Eesti writers.

“Chitchat is a basic human need,” says Harry Shum, head of Microsoft Technology and Research. It greases the wheels of the workplace. When you ask a colleague to do something, you don’t just bark out an order; you banter for a while. Shum thinks these pleasantries—what linguists call “phatic” communications, like “How ya doin’?”—will help bots integrate into the flow of daily life.

Mechanical metaphors: greases the wheels / greases the gears. Banter as foreplay for a request is still pseudophatic communion. This is the same issue I have with Julia Elyachar's paper on phatic labor: in Malinowski's terms, it makes phatic communion preparatory whereas ideally it should be consummatory, that is, an end in itself rather than "a way in".

Some research backs this up. When Doron Friedman, head of the Advanced Reality Lab at IDC Herzliya, looked at how users in Second Life interacted with a bot, he found that phatic communications were the second-most-common parts of the conversation (after facts). Another study found that people prefer bots with “personality.” The “junk” DNA is more important, as it were.

Welp, how can I trust a statistical measurement of phatic units if those units are not defined by any standard beyond the experimenter's creativity? It's like trying to measure very colourful nature photographs for a colour called "nature". The junk DNA bit I like, though, as it puts the above-met quotation, "phatic communication is the small talk that makes significant communication possible", into fewer words. It might be interesting to follow the asymmetry of interest in Malinowskian phatic communion with the concept of exformation, i.e. what is left of a message after information has been sorted out, in mind.

Social chatbots could have a dark side. Some critics worry we’ll prefer these fake relationships to real, messy ones, as in the movie Her. Worse, bots with this kind of social awareness would be very useful for deception. Politicians and despots already try to create fake “grassroots” support online; conversational AI could make these ruses even harder to detect.

What if this development occurred parallel to Ray Kurzweil's metaconnection, and our real, messy social techniques were augmented by algorythmically coordinated implementation (?): the implanted voice in your head recites the best possible verbal message for the occasion, and you have only the trouble of flapping your mouth-hole. Gone would be conversation lulls, and everybody would be witty and full of surprisingly good banter. How would we accustom to the fakeness/less-than-organicness of it all?

Lai, Anjali 2015.08.27. The Data Difest: Social Media and Social Revolution | Forrester

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect posits that seemingly small changes at one moment in time can result in large, dramatic changes at another. The subtle flap of a butterfly’s wing can trigger a violent hurricane that occurs miles away or days later. Rationally, the idea may seem like a stretch, but in a digital sense, we are witnesses to – and victims of – the butterfly effect every day through social media. A few individuals’ posts online can escalate into a chorus of voices that mobilizes communities and creates new standards.

This is reminiscent of the old adage about how signs work: the energy expended to blow a whistle in the factor is not great, but it leashes the avalanche of human workers marching to the cafeteria and restrooms. This iteration originates from Lotman, and is mirrored somewhat in related thinking about intertextualism - how an influential text is like a loud caller at the top of the mountain whose calls leash a torrent of similar but subtly different texts. This is one of the problems of hypertext as well - any given piece of information can transform into anything else, given the impetus or enough recursive iterations.

Social media has always been a catalyst for bringing people together as well as an outlet where consumers can vent. But when a surge of voices results in change, social media posts are more than ephemeral cybertext. And, according to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data, consumers around the world leverage social media to generate buzz about current events, although members of some countries are more vocal than others [...] With the right mentality, skill set, and tool box, organizations can extract value from the chaos and channel social conversation into innovation. For example, through a partnership with Twitter, the city authorities in Jakarta, Indonesia mine social media data so that they can respond to environmental disasters faster.

Sure, but what if the value is extracted from consumers venting their frustrations and the government partners with the predominant social media platform to innovate a filter for dissidents or political opponents? History sure is full of documented cases of people "snitching" on their neighbours and even family, and today it won't even require a human intermediary - a censorbot will do. The report this blog post is based on - "Transform Government From The Outside In" - is behind a 450 dollar paywall, and this appears to be an advertising for it.

Rice, Jeff 2015.05.05. Phatic Academics: Essay on the meaningless ways academics greet one another | Inside Higher Ed

"Glad the semester is almost over!" "Grading, grading, grading." Jeff Rice is tired of the way professors seem determined to say something meaningless to one another.

Made me think of term-trotters. Looking up the text, I caught a equivalent phraseology to the main statement of this article: "to speak after the manner of academical men" described by "unaffected piety, and sanctity of manners".

Glad the semester is almost over”? What kind of greeting is “Glad the semester is almost over”? Is this how people acknowledge each other’s presence in a fleeting moment of recognition -- with a declaration regarding the semester’s demise? I’m familiar with common phatic addresses of greeting: hello, how are you, what’s up, how’s it going, hey, nice day, looking good, nice weather we’re having and many others. But why would a nod to the semester’s conclusion be treated as a greeting?

The poetic phrasing of acknowledgement is admirable. To attempt an answer to the rhetorical question: I think people who open-and-close this way are doing exactly that: shortcircuiting phatic communion by opening with a closing, or at least with a (subliminal?) reference to a closing. It sounds like the kind of greeting you'd give to someone with whom you feel on an equal footing but don't really want to stick around with to exchange pointless pleasantries. This technique overloads the conversation with informality, and could equally be based on the transition to continuous communication style - instead of a traditional greeting, this kind of conversation partner is "picking up", as it were, the conversation from wherever it was left when it last ended, who remembers when or how.

Greetings are phatic. That is, greetings serve no real rhetorical purpose other than to perform a social task or ritual that recognizes the encounter taking place among at least two individuals. Greetings are like small talk. They make the social moment easier to deal with. There is no reference point for the repeated phatic greeting other than its communal recognition (we all know what “hello” is supposed to do when two people meet). There is no real meaning in the greeting. “Hello” conveys no information in and of itself. One does not walk away from the greeting with new information, only the greeting. In the moment of social encounter, two individuals coming into proximity with one another search for a way to -- even in passing -- acknowledge the other without conveying any information other than the expression itself. Hello. How are you? What’s up? How are things? Glad the semester is almost over!

I think people feel a psychological need to recognize the minutest encounters taking place because they do ease the fluid movement of everyday transactions (here, getting from place A to place B is a transaction in a sense - at least in terms of the social actions surrounding transportation), and help maintain psychological safety. The author errs in assuming that there is no information in the "Hello" - not even paralinguistic? What of the tone or emotional inflection of the greeting? How about the interplay of gazes, the rhythm of body movements, the way the greeting frames the interaction as fleeting or intense by its mode of utterance, defining the situation in an instant? To miss all of this would be to stoop below average social sensitivity.

“Glad the semester is almost over” would not be a greeting in any profession other than academia. “Glad the semester is almost over” marks the academic anxiety and apprehension about work (we work in semester blocks) and about not working (whew, the semester is finally over and I can go on with my life). Besides this interest in a semester’s length, academics excel at phatic expressions and greetings.

Believe you me this is very similar outside the academy. In a factory, people constantly discuss their weekends, holidays, sick days, overtime, coffee and smoke break length, and every possible variation of frustration about alternating and changing shifts. We are all "clocked in".

Knowing that we will do the semester all over again after a short break, what does it matter that the semester is almost over, and why should I be glad? Or is “Glad the semester is almost over” a statement about how little academics -- who should have so much to talk about with each other given their political, disciplinary and social interests and concerns -- have to say to one another in any real fashion? “How’s your semester going?” “Can’t wait for spring break!” “I am so busy!” “What are you teaching this semester?” “What are your summer plans?” “Busy, busy, busy!” “I have so much grading to do.” “Grading! Grading! Grading!” “Can’t wait for summer!” “What are you teaching next semester?” “Glad the semester is almost over!”

It could be that academics are simply less sociable than non-academics. It could also be, if I were to speculate, that academics and researchers live a parasocial life amongst intellectual authorities, i.e. books and other writings, and don't cultivate a habit of sharing their political, disciplinary and social interests because the academic environment is not conducive to this kind of exchange? Especially in pedagogical institutions you'll have a faculty comprising of so widely different interests that no-one can really (under)stand the other's special interests.

In Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega stop talking for a brief moment while having dinner at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. “Don’t you hate that?” Mia asks Vincent about the lull in conversation that has occurred. “What?” Vincent responds. “Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?” We do, however, feel that it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in academe. The uncomfortable academic -- always hyperbolic in his/her semesterlong anxiety of teaching -- does not know what to say when passing a colleague on campus or chatting in a book exhibit at a conference or spending a minute in the elevator as it proceeds to one’s floor. There’s an uncomfortable silence. What to do? Express something phatic. “How’s your semester going?” “Busy, busy, busy!”

I still protest that this must be something familiar to most people, regardless of the academia. The Pulp Fiction episode is a good catch.

Phatic academics do not only occur on campus or at events. Via the status update, we greet each other online phatically as well. Disaster and social unrest turn us into phatic machines: Ferguson, celebrity RIPs, Nepal, Baltimore. On a daily basis, there is no shortage of phatic posting. It’s not that such events do not deserve commentary (they do). It’s not that the events don’t move us to emotions (they do). It’s that the update is not a moment of commentary or discussion but rather a ritual or social gesture of digital greeting where content is not emphasized. The update is meant to greet the follower or friend, not engage them, since engagement typically can lead to blocking or unfriending. The update says phatically: “Something terrible has happened in the world; look at me.” The update is not content based, but is a social ritual of online posturing as greeting, the way “Hello” can be in the physical world or even “Glad the semester is almost over” can be among academics passing each other on campus.

"Phatic machines" further emphasizes the automatism attributed to phatic communion ever since Gardiner (1932). The point about expressions of compassion during disaster and social rest (i.e. that it effectively says "but look how sads I am") probably originates from Tosh.0 (or another tall comedian). On the whole, the sentiment expressed here comes across as "people are so fake these days, no-one really means what they say". Every human interaction must be saturated with real feelings.

A phatic address such as “hello” or “what’s up” avoids content by focusing attention on the empty greeting and not the actual encounter.

How would you signify the actual encounter? Should every interaction begin with a description of the setting, for example? Well, here we are, at the intersection of This and That street, on a Monday morning, each presumably heading towards our offices...

Phatic addresses are comforting. They allow us to pass over that awkward silence that arises among academics who spend their days with so much to discuss (their own work, classroom lectures, theory, administrative issues, politics, race, gender), but when confronted with the casual moment know only the at-hand phatic comment. “Glad the semester is almost over” comforts both sides of the conversation. Thank God I don’t have to actually inquire into your life; thank God I don’t have to respond. Thank God I don’t have to know what really caused certain things to occur in a certain city in America. Thank God I don’t have to deal with any yak or bullshit.

Is there something bad about comfort? It sounds like academics are leveraging their anxieties very much the way Weston La Barre suggests: by relieving shared emotional burdens. Everybody has problems but the examples illustrate those shared by the academic community. The ending is unconvincing.

Munson, Bob 2010.12.10. Phatic Communion and Mission | Munson Mission Musings

This is sometimes call “small talk”, chit-chat, and terms and expressions of courtesy and social convention. In some ways phatic communion (or phatic communication) is the most important part of communication since it deals with belongingness and relationship.

This is about as vague a definition as they come: terms and expressions of courtesy and social convention having to do with belongingess and relationship. At some point it starts to feel as if no-one is really nailing anything down, just playing a game of tableau vivant with characteristics of phatic communion, communication, and function.

In the Philippines, small talk (a form of phatic communication) is a necessary part of any business meeting. In fact, it may take up the larger part of the meeting. If we accept that relationships are more important than information, than one should value phatic communication. Clearly, there are some people who use small talk as a way to avoid communication of facts and feelings, but any extreme has its problems. Ideally, it should open doors to further communication/communion.

Are we really between the choice of accepting either of these extremes? What about overlapping cases, such as epistemic emotions (or thesic affections) or phatic qualia (e.g. information about relationship)?

At least that is my theory. If phatic language is so important for missionaries… it must be also so important for respondents. We often focus on contextualizing the message of the Gospel. But we need to go further. To communicate with people of a different culture (or sub-culture or micro-culture)… we must go beyond finding the right word for “God” and “faith”. We must communicate in such a way as to show that we belong there, and Christ is just as at home among them as among us.

It feels like this is articulating a very interesting issue. In the immediate context, the author writes about the sense of belongingness missionaries feel towards fellows in faith due to authoritative restrictions on religious communication in some host countries. The author most likely suspects, if one were to put two and two together, that if missionaries cannot use their religious slang unhindered, their converts won't feel as "at home" as they should.

O'Hara, Karen 2013.06.23. The humanity of social networking technologies: phatic communication | Workplace Writing

The other day I was chatting with the parents of some incoming first-year students, and the topic turned to the ways technology has changed since we were in college. One dad bemoaned the increasing preference for texting over telephone conversations (not to mention face-to-face conversations.) He went on to point out the dehumanizing effects of social media – a viewpoint that many experts agree with. In fact, heavy Facebook use has been linked with higher rates of depression and general dissatisfaction with life in college students. Yikes!

A relevant tweet by @pstann: Social media is increasingly sociophatic.

An outcome of this relationship [established, developed and maintained by phatic technologies sensu Wang et al.] is the formation of a social community. If that mom and I had more time (and if I weren’t trying so hard to be agreeable), I might have pointed out some of the ways that texting, Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social tools have actually given us additional chances to maintain community and the human touch, especially from a distance.

This author seems to be anticipating Wang & Tucker's phatic systems, or is "from a distance" Vetere et al.'s formulation? Oops, it turns out "phatic systems" is too.

Because I work in technology, I know all too well that social media has its pitfalls. And I have seen enough cat videos to last for three lifetimes.

Why not nine lifetimes?

The real differentiator for modern phatic technologies is not rejection of good manners, but an emphasis on speed. We can complete social transactions almost instantaneously, compared to some of our older methods (like letter-writing). We shorten our messages or leave out some of the details in order to keep up the pace. For some of us, the speed adds a sense of anxiety as we try to stay connected to our communities. And when we’re anxious, we can forget our manners.

That's certainly one explanatory mechanism. The development of smart "slow" technology has thus far only disappointed. I'm most definitely a sufferer of the speed anxiety - instant chat messaging is instantaneous, sure, but it requires synchronicity and attention, which are not very relevant via e-mail.

Certainly we feel wistful about the joy of reading a beautifully-written letter or the thrill of hearing the voice of a loved one, but let’s not assume that new technologies completely eliminate the human touch. Remember what your mama taught you, and follow the Golden Rule – we’ll figure the rest of it out as we go along.

Good phraseology for formulating Jakobson's odd, originally Polish, remarks about the poetic memory of a loved one. I think I solved the syllogism: if your mama taught you to follow the Golden Rule then your mama is Aristotle.


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