Saturday, August 02, 2008

Communication and Class

I hope the handful of people who read this blog do so with a critical outlook. If I've got something wrong, I am interested in hearing why. It is true that if you send a mindless or insulting comment I will not "print" it but anything substantive and on point is welcome. I mention this now because I have a theory about class-based means of communication that could be dead wrong.

Over the last few months I have run into instances in which people said the prefer to talk about something "in person" and not in email. Putting aside those cases in which they are simply adhering to the greasy version of the New York Times rule -- "Do not write anything down that you would not want to see in the New York Times." (Real version, as a Moneylaw colleague pointed out to me -- "Do not do anything you would not want on the front of the New York Times.")

Putting that aside I assume people prefer the mode of communication that favors them. People who get away with interrupting, sending visual cues of disapproval, use different tones of voice to say something but in a way that they can claim is misunderstood prefer face to face. There are also probably good reasons for liking face to face but ultimately "like" equates to some version of self interest even if it is just personal confort. I prefer face to face in most informal communications but even when an argument arises with a friend I go for email. I think I do better at email. At least the listener cannot interrupt email. Plus, I am a sucker for disapproving looks, a raised eyebrow, etc.

My theory as a general matter is that elitists or so-called well bred people (not all of which are elitists) prefer face to face because they have learned that it favors them. Take this example:

Little Billy, 4 year old son of working class family begins to pout when he cannot get roll up gum at the checkout line. The response. "Billy, get that look off your face or you will be sitting in the car and you'll get a licking and I don't care who knows it." A visit to your local WalMart on Friday night may help if you are not following me.

Now compare this: Little Billy, while going through the checkout line at Whole Foods is told "no" when he asks for an organic, free trade candy bar. He pouts. Upon seeing this, Mom says, "Oh Billy, I bet that makes you really sad" and she in all likelihood buys a carton the organic, free trade candy bars or does something else to appease Billy.

Which little Billy will prefer face to face later in life?

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