Friday, May 18, 2012

Publicly living in the implied presence of others

I will reserve POVs on the $104B valuation for other platforms, but want to praise the conceptual winner today: the validation of the social psychological being.
Today, we celebrate the IPO of the company, entity, and social force that has made explicit the previously invisible ways we communicate our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I realize this isn't the case for everyone, but saying "thoughts, feelings, and behaviors" is a scripted schema in my book, as memorized from the classic definition of social psychology,
The scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are affected by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. (Allport, 1954)
In other words, when I think about Facebook and this script rolls off my tongue, I realize a less scandalous and/or money-making version of The Social Network might have depicted (a less entrepreneurial) Zuckerberg interviewing all social and personality psychologists, understanding the plight of observing people in labs, and deciding to revolutionize the way experiments are done.

The little code-- brains, and momentum that motivated 900M people to hop on and interact for us all to observe and engage with is social psychology's moment in the sun.

Facebook is a petri dish of social psychological experimentation. It's us proclaiming our identity to others as we are and as we want to be seen-- the seeds of social desirability, self-verification, social comparison. It's us leaving and perceiving behavioral residues as cues to our personalities. It's us demonstrating our psychological orientation to the world through language. It's a constant reminder of our need for belonging.  

Whether we have an illusion of transparency or control, suffer from the imposter effect, have egocentric biases, need social validation... some of my favorite psychological concepts, Facebook lets us express our social psychological selves and celebrate in others' expression.
Congratulations, Facebook!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Listening for stories, a uniquely human, unautomated response

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

Sometimes I find myself wandering in conversation. I get distracted by peripheral cues on speakers (tattoos, verbal mannerisms) and hypotheses of my own I'm continually testing (building a case).

In light of my past post on storylistening in business, I've started thinking more specifically about what it means to be a good listener, without technology. The other night a friend (who happens to be a preeminent communications researcher) suggested "patience" and "imagination." Patience for a story to develop, imagination to string it together.

Imagination has stuck with me-- and might be the perfect concept to help turn storytelling on its head (to story listening). We naturally think about the ability to capture people's imagination with stories we tell, but what about using your own imagination to capture other people's stories, as listeners?

This reminds me of what Robert Sapolsky highlights in his book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, about the role of stress making us vulnerable to disease. Sapolsky explains that an unfortunately unique human ability to worry is what predisposes us to stress (thus illness) over Zebras, for example, who focus on acute physical stressors (e.g. running from predators, asap!).

Worrying, in some ways, is about being imaginative-- thinking about the future, letting our minds wander as we play with potential scenarios. It's the downside of imagination. In listening for stories, we have to learn to harness the ability to be imaginative without wandering aimlessly, or ruminating. We have to imagine characters for whom who we may not have faces to place, we must infer emotions, deduce feelings, 'form images not perceived through our senses'. But we have to do this in a focused way.

To listen for a story strikes me as a uniquely human thing to do; yet, something we don't naturally slip into as automatically as our stress response kicks in with 'worry.' If we hone our imagination as we listen, I think stories will more easily emerge.