Fear and Resistance in the Text Event

Fear is a funny word to start with here, I suppose, it can be taken in so many ways, goes all the way from “i’m being hunted by a tiger in a doghouse” to “I just blew through that stopsign, I hope no one saw me”. For the purposes of this conversation we’re talking more about the latter. The kind of fear and avoidance that makes people ignore the phone bill on the desk – trepidation – or makes students look sideways at an exam score, like only taking a peek will somehow make the inevitable D+ feel better.

On the other side of that fear/hope continuum from our bill avoider is that small chance that there was a special at 1-900-basket-weavers the day he called them for advice and forgot his phone off the hook as he attended to the apple sauce that had oddly caught fire on his stove. The hope that the bill just might not burst into flames as soon as he opens it. The the letter will fail to meet his expectation.

Odd metaphors aside, this is the reaction that I see when people approach something new. Fear. Trepidation. Excitement. Hope. (there’s apathy too, but we’ll leave that aside for now) What’s the difference? Of the many possible answers to this question, the one that interests me the most is about text events. By text event I mean a word, an action, a picture, a sign of any kind that is used, refered to or otherwise occurs. My interest is not in terms of definitions, but in terms of USAGE. The text language-game. Not ‘what does the word or action mean?’ but ‘what does it mean to use the word or action?’ What is the correct thing to do in response to that word or action? When we see a stop sign… we stop. When a person points a gun at us and says “hands up!” we don’t turn our palms upwards, we raise our hands over our heads. We know how to play those games. Here is an example of how not understanding the ‘game’ can lead to discomfort, fear of failure, or exclusion from a group.

A simple example – podcast. If I’m talking to a co-worker and I say,

“I’ve got to do my podcast this weekend”.

What has happened? I’ve described an event. I’ve also annouced something that I expect the listener to be interested in (potentially). What’s the correct response to this statement? How do I play the game? I may know the definition of the word ‘podcast’, but I don’t know what I”m supposed to do with the information. Is ‘wow, that’s great’ a good reponse? How about “you want some help?”? What about “oh, where are you doing that?” These are all, more or less decent responses. A little odd, but ok.

But what about “when is your podcast?” or “why are you doing that?” These responses aren’t so good, they illustrate a misunderstanding of what a podcast is.

Good answers like “what’s it about?” and “where do you publish it?” are successes in the language game.

I can imagine many situations where my lack of specific knowledge about a topic has led to a failure in the specific language game dictated by the text-event. These failures, the losses, lead to slight feelings of alienation and resistance. They can lead to a potential withdrawal from a group. The laughter these ‘faux pas’ these missteps can often lead to can result in inclusion or exclusion, just like the failure itself can lead to both. All depending on the way that it happens. This is an idea I”m going to have to talk out at length, comments are most welcome. If you’ve made it this far into the conversation… penguins are people too!

Author: dave

I run this site… among other things.

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