All the social things

Hey readers :).

It’s been a really fun week. After the week previous, I was up to my usual energy levels, and was then invited to so many nice social things. Wednesday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday, except I was back to sleep-deprived by that point and went home and went to bed early :P.

I have some thoughts in mind for how I want this post to go—I’d like to do some snippets about people’s traits, and small stories—but probably this will just be cut into little disjointed sections and there won’t be too much other organization. I keep getting confused when I’m trying to plan because an amazing number of people who also partook in these social things read these posts, and that requires additional theory-of-mind-ing. Also, if I go too much into detail it’ll just turn into one huge gush about how I love everyone. This seems a tad ill-advised, given I can’t observe anyone’s reactions and paragraphs are right next to each other here for direct comparison… Ah well. I’ll do my best to hit the proper level of gush and propriety :P.

Here we go!

“I feel like I don’t yet know the inner Monica.”

“I write a blog! Everything’s on the blog! I don’t know what more you could want for knowing who I am!”

“No, I feel like the blog doesn’t have everything. Like, the story you just told us, that’s not on there.”

“Well, no, because [that person] reads the blog…”

I like this sort of comment. Maybe because it demonstrates something about the type of person who reads my blog, what we consider about “who a person is”, something about our perception of filtering, and how we expect to people to adapt to different audiences. These are just initial thoughts that come to mind, but I’ve heard this comment from more than one person.

Interestingly enough, one of them just stopped reading the blog. “I’d rather hear it from you,” she would say, and I was always slightly confused by that, because I can usually produce a higher ratio of thoughtful / banal sentences on the blog than I can in person, and I tell most of my good stories there. Talking to me in person does have the advantage that I’m filtering to you, I can always recreate the things I worked through in writing, and there’s new content. I suppose it also has the more important benefit of relationship-building, rather than accumulating content. Hm, that could be it—that some friends are reading for the purposes of information-acquisition (…but like, strange and personalized and not very applicable information?) and others request that I hang out with them in person? The one drawback to this is that I’m simply not around that much in person.

A follow-up thought: if you are reading the blog for relationship-building purposes (which I assume is the majority. Maybe. There aren’t that many readers, but there are definitely more than my number of close friends) then how are you supposed to use that information? I’ve learned over time that people find it really awkward to just launch straight in with whatever I have up here. I don’t mind when people do it—I like it, actually—but I see why it’s hard. It’s a breach of protocol to go from discussion about the weather to “okay, so I read on your blog about this thing you were struggling with, here’s a new opinion, yeah?”

Which means, I think, that people are thinking about these things when they interact with me, but not saying it. And ugggg I dislike that experience when it happens to me. Way too much subtext. I usually just want to say: “So I was thinking this thought about you and it’s not really suited to anything but a late-night several-hours-build-up kind of conversation, but I’m thinking it right now and I really want to start meta-analyzing how we’re interacting, and is it okay to say it? How about now? How about now? Nope, shoot, can’t say that, ah, conversation pause, think of something else more neutral, agggggg.”

I dearly hope that this isn’t as aggravating to other people as it is to me. This is almost as bad as the “shoot, think of conversation topics” frantic search that I describe at the end of the paragraph above. Thinking of good conversation topics is hard to begin with, and it’s much harder when you’re trying to figure out if you can say what you’re actually thinking about or not, and repeatedly concluding that you shouldn’t. Sometimes I do up and say it though. When I was younger I’d always just say these things. As I described to some friends recently, “I think I usually act pretty much the same, I just dial up the weirdness level with different people.”

(Support for this kind of statement, a quote from a friend:

Friend: “My perception of you before the summer started and then after living with you from ten weeks was like night and day.”

Me: “How so?”

Friend: “Ah, you just have a lot of quirks. And that wasn’t at all evident from having conversations with you on a bus a few times as week. But was REALLY evident from living with you.”

(This friend has a particularly good model of how I eat, and how I walk. I enjoy walking around cities, and am willing to do so for long distances, and was doing a walk with her that evening. At some point, we passed over a canal, and I sort of squealed and exclaimed over the presence of water. “You’re so predictable,” she said, looking on amusedly. “What?” I demanded, turning around. “Water,” she gestured. “I also keep on forgetting how much energy you have. You’re like a puppy. A Labrador puppy. You’d make a good Labrador puppy.” I hadn’t even noticed the exclamation over the water—it was pretty automatic. My sisters also point this sort of thing out to me.))

Returning to the original “I don’t feel like I know you” comment, I think it also says something about who we think a person is. People often seem to have the perception that “unfiltered” writing gives a truer sense of who we are, and that editing makes what is said more artificial. I can see the logic in this. A lot of our behavior is governed by unconscious processes, and those instantaneous reactions are a good gauge of our actions. But I don’t personally like the idea that who we are is defined by our unfiltered reactions. In fact, this idea is antithetical to many of the values I use to run my life: that we can overcome the maladaptive biases we have, that we are not what we think but what we do, that we can improve through higher-level thinking. To me, filtered writing is just as true to who I am than unfiltered writing. This is a public blog; it’s how I present myself to the world, and that’s how I’d like to be seen. I suck at writing private entries—in fact, I only use them when I’m working through something, so that I can draw conclusions that are fit for public consumption later. I try to present as emotionally consistent (specifically, positive) when I interact with anyone, and I also try to keep my internal state caught up with my external state so that I can emote honestly. I like the idea of filters and editing and externally presenting as “who I am”.

Personal preference though, I think. I state that I want “who I am” to be edited by higher-level processes. But you could argue that “I am my instantaneous reactions, but those instantaneous reactions are edited throughout life by higher-level thinking”. Also, people do just seem to differ on how much emphasis they place on editing, whether in writing or “self-editing”. Everything seems to work out in the end.

Finally, I think the comment about “who we are” says something about how we expect people to adapt to different audiences. During my Wednesday night social event, we were discussing how much individuals change their behavior when interacting with different groups. At some point, I was reading about how this is a dimension—”adaptivity”—that people just happen to vary on as a function of their personality, and I continue to find it interesting. I went to a talk by a hostage negotiator once, and he opened by describing his extreme adaptivity.

“People have this notion that they’re not ‘being themselves’ when they change their behavior with others,” he said. “But that doesn’t make sense. If you sit down with a friend and are talking about what’s going on with him and his girlfriend, and his mom comes into the pub and sits down with you, you’re going to change the subject. This applies everywhere. We’re always performing, we’re always adapting who we are to the people we’re around. I’m not myself unless I’m sitting by myself at midnight reading a book with a cup of tea. We are always performing, and as soon as you get it out of your head that there’s no ‘genuine self’, that there’s no ‘one true you’, we can start making progress.”

…Huh, I didn’t realize how much of how I think about this draws from my agreement with his lecture. It’s a balance though, I think. I like people who are extremely adaptive, because they’re great socializers. I don’t mind people who aren’t as adaptive, because I fall more to that end, and that’s my default. I think people have preferences over what they like in other people, as well… I wonder if people’s own tendencies and what they admire in others is correlated? You might see an inverse correlation—if you’re good at one end you probably admire people who are good at the other—or no correlation if you’re happy with where you’re at or anything more complicated arises.

Most of the time if a conversation is awkward, I feel that I’ve done a conversation wrong. Sometimes, I replay back my conversation partner’s words, and I think: we’re running around in this huge conversation space, under time constraints and mental simulations and computational bounds, we’re hard-wired to care about this interaction, and none of us has any idea what we’re doing. Let us all be awkward in our daily human conversations together :).

“Is it bothering you that we’re talking about personal things I’ve been working on, rather than a more equal-exchange conversation?” I ask. (Weirdness unleashed :P)

“No, it’s telling me something about how all social interaction works,” he says.

“No, if I didn’t care about you, then why would I be your friend?” says another.

There wasn’t enough information to interpret these statements properly (I expect to receive email corrections), but I enjoyed the difference in gist here :). Information-acquisition versus relationship-building. That’s too cut-and-dried, of course, but seems a nice contrast. (For the record, I enjoy either purpose.)


(*Update from the person who I reported saying: ‘No, it’s telling me something about how all social interaction works’ :).

“I think I said ‘I am learning something really interesting about how the mind works.’ I felt like I was conducting a case study on metacognitive learning. This topic is hard to study because most people are not aware of this process and cannot report on it. But you are really good at verbalizing the process by which you notice and correct mental errors. That made it really fascinating to interview on this subject. More generally, I really like listening to people who openly share the thoughts and feelings that pass through their mind. This is extremely interesting data to me. I think it is precious because most people don’t share directly what they think and feel, but communicate very strategically — to make a good impression, seem cool, be funny, manage their image, or get what they want.”)

He pauses, does that quick half-smile that he does, there and gone again as a thought passes through. A few more seconds, eyes opened wide and staring upward.

He has it, and turns to me, focused as he explains whatever new research idea he wants to share. His mouth alternates between neutral and delighted; like he can’t help himself, twitching it up into a smile as each new intriguing complication occurs to him.

(He does the same thing when he makes a pun, where there’s a little silliness introduced into our conversations. I’m always glad to know that everything’s okay, that he’s happy.)

“People are usually laughing right now,” I accuse. “This story is meant to be funny.”

He smiles back, no teeth. “I’m laughing internally. A lot.”

“No but really, if this story isn’t funny then it’s just embarrassing. You sure you’re enjoying it? What parts have you liked?”

Feedback to stories is always interesting. This particular set of stories draws very different reactions depending on people’s expectations, and the humor is very touch and go. It’s also a set that can drag on for half an hour or take five minutes depending on how I tell it and what parts I’m emphasizing, and so far the variability in response has been too large for me to figure out how to tell it for maximum humor value. This friend was particularly interesting though, because he generally tries to restrict any judgments that he displays. Which is great in most situations, especially in being a good listener, but not an optimum response when the storyteller is trying to figure out which sections have mass mirth appeal.

It was interesting to me because this was one situation where I was trying to get someone to emote more, where in most situations I’m trying to get people to emote less, to come on less strongly with whatever they’re trying to tell me. I’ve not met many people like this friend though :).

“But with a lot of interesting people, you want to feed them information that you already know, and it’ll come out different after being through their mind.”

A cool perspective on another way to be interesting, besides producing original thoughts. I haven’t heard this one; I like it.

Friend: “I have so much context!”

When I want to get feedback on an emotional problem, I’ll pretty much always frame it in abstract terms when I present it. At some point someone will usually ask me for an example, and then I’ll dive in, but I strongly prefer to do it this way.

The main reason is that when I express a particular example (usually of me taking someone else’s words the wrong way), everyone changes the tone of their behavior. When the question is abstract, it’s a philosophical thing, and everyone feels free to weigh in with their opinions. Everyone’s drawing on their own experiences, so the opinions are usually distant enough from my situation that there’s not much to be taken personally. Additionally, people usually don’t have extremely strong opinions at this stage because there’s so much uncertainty in the problem that I’m asking.

Start sketching out a specific example, and suddenly everyone’s really empathetic. People will lean in. People will focus on me. People will ask about the edges of the problem, the context, and pretty soon I’m telling an entire story. The solution space narrows, as friends move onto my side, support me. The path of the conversation stops—while before, it could widen, move onto someone else’s story or experience, now everything’s focused on me, on me sharing information. Which is great, and I’m happy to share stories, and I’m very grateful to everyone for taking the time to listen. But usually when I share things in the abstract I have some dual purpose—get input on the problem, and I also hope that the discussion will bring out interesting stories from other people.

(Note: when I want to share specific stories for the purposes of feeling support, I feel like I usually start in with the specific story right away. I think I usually start from the abstract when it’s something that’s not really bothering me, but I’d like some feedback on.)

But it’s always amusing to me when someone exclaims, “I have so much context!” because they’re reading about something on the blog or I’ve just explained a problem in abstract terms and they know exactly what specific situation I’m referring to.

Makes me happy that they’re happy :).

I love the way she moves sometimes: almost caricatured, anime-like, awkward movements, but executed smoothly with accompanying head tilts, almost no lower body movement at all. Her expression is intent and unself-conscious, ready to break into a smile as soon as she’s done with the imitation, the expression.

It feels clever, whenever she’s finished with the three-second motions. She looks pleased after, and I’m always laughing with delight. They’re always new. Always express something uniquely.

His expression is deadpan, and you can almost see him thinking, figuring out what obvious-non-obvious thing to say next. Humor is hard, and he’s found his niche, stating something and nodding along to himself before someone laughs. Sometimes he breaks, smiles, usually he builds on.

We’ve gotten permission to fiddle with things during the conversation, and he’s currently flinging a rubber band at a roof. Gets it stuck, stands up, pulls it down, resumes. Talk continues on, unheeded.

(Can I say how much of a relief it is when someone moves like a jock? The lumbering gait, the back and forth. Easily swinging their arms, grounded. I notice most when people decidedly aren’t, but it is so immediately comforting to me when people are. I miss the solidity of athletes, sometimes.)

One thing that’s different about him is that when I tell a story, he’ll jump in with his own. Full attention on me, but he’ll transition, and conversation always flows on, tacking between us, one story to the next.

“Powerful, and potential,” she says. “I like that.”

We’ve been going around and telling each other descriptive adjectives, and she’s very happy with hers. Fits into her overall life goals, what she dares and dreams to accomplish in life. It’s going to be amazing.

“We just need to fix this, by doing the following…”

He always uses “we”, even when he’s doing everything. I’m following convention, now, even when I’m doing the work. I enjoy it.

He’s a chill person, you know? Accepting, affirming, leans back in his chair, leans forward as the situation requests. Open to new experiences, keeps a slow drawl, urges people out.

He pulls people together. Steady eyes that don’t always smile, but his gestures are graceful, he delivers topics with reverence, passion in so many aspects.

She is dynamic. She’ll bounce sometimes, in her impatience, excitement, explanations: in her delight with someone else wanting to learn, in others asking good questions.

“You can feel whatever you want, you know, Monica? You do you.”

I feel like there’s a lot beneath her surface, in the occasional force in her speech, in her insistence of compassion for others, the careful choice in mannerisms, her usual calm. Right back at you, my friend: you do you.

“It’s not so much the research ideas that’s important in finding an advisor, it’s the fit.” (One professor, and my experience up until now)

“Don’t tell me what you think we we’re interested in, tell me what you’re interested in.” (Another professor)

“I want to make sure your projects are fitting with your overall interests… I want to have everyone come out of the lab with a unique research program.” (A third)

He’s describing that he’d continue his work to further humanity’s progress even if the sun would only rise for one more year.

She’s sitting down next to me, helping me rearrange letters in Bananagrams, restricted to dirty words. Two other friends are playing, everyone else is standing around observing, commenting, laughing.

You sometimes feel like you’re claiming another person’s stories? I have this favorite line from a story I once read: “There was a scar across his temple where the stitches had been, very small and faint, and a strange rush of fondness hit him all at once, a mix of I know that story and…”

I know that story. I know that story; that story, that aspect of that person, that shared moment, that’s mine.

She’s funny—she’ll assert something, then catch it, take it back just as strongly. She exudes all sorts of emotions—joking, stress, command—but interest most of all. She’ll hone in on a target and jump right in, she’ll take control of a situation and run it flawlessly. I don’t have a full grasp on her, but she does.

I interact differently in groups rather than one-on-ones? And sometimes I like groups better? There’s a freedom in groups, to not pay attention, to be meaner, to let other people take over, to not have such focused attention. I’ve felt this way before with people who feel like they prefer groups themselves. Kind of a new experience to have it apply overall though :).

Hmmm, all right, time for bed :). Thanks to everyone for making it a really enjoyable week: I am not doing conversations near the justice they deserve or expressing how much I appreciated them, more from sleepiness than anything else.

In bullet-point other news:

– Research has been good fun—I’m figuring out my new project for my rotation, hanging around another related project, and making progress on my original experiment.

– We had the prospective students over at Berkeley this week, and it was great to meet them!

– Our “Bay Area Scientists in Schools” (BASIS) group taught first-graders about the senses and the brain for the first time on Monday. It was quite enjoyable.

– My dad came and visited me and fixed my bike! Very pleased with the new adjustments.

– I have been going to WAY too many lectures. Berkeley spoils me.

– Friends are ridiculously crazy awesome and thank you so so much again for all of the long conversations this week.

Best wishes and thank you as always for reading,



One thought on “All the social things

  1. I think I’m starting to ride my bike like you, fast, and hit all the bumps on the road. John had to pump my tyres for me twice already now, haha. Oh, and I have to reread the public consumption thing, as at first I misread it for human consumption, and immediately thought of the meals you prepared in the house last year. Haha. Miss you Mon!


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