[extropy-chat] Signaling and Social Markers

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Thu Dec 28 17:08:17 UTC 2006

Lee Corbin wrote:
>> We are two guys who are cool with acting our
>> age and our intelligence. We are comfortable
>> in our own brains, even if we are not hip. I
>> like being me.
> Yes, I rather enjoy being me too!   :-)   But
> middle-aged men who wear pony-tails are no doubt
> comfortable being themselves, also, no? Although
> wait---don't *they* keep changing what they're
> signaling as times change, and we don't?  Isn't
> this a non-symmetry out of which we can get some
> milage?   You and I dress just the way we always
> have.  (It will wreck my image of Spike if I 
> find out that there was a pony-tail stage!  :-)
> I've always wondered---since we have got into
> the psychological--- about people who constantly
> change their appearance (their signaling to
> others) in response to fad and fashion.  Why
> aren't they embarrassed to palpably and
> obviously admit that they merely conform to
> what everyone else is doing?   Were I them, I'd
> *feel* that I was of no substance, and had
> little in the way of independent character.
> So I put it starkly:   if you are a man who
> keeps changing the way he looks every five
> years, can you explain what is going on in
> your presentation of self to others?   Exactly
> why don't you feel silly?

When I was in junior high I wore bell bottom jeans and waffle stompers.
During high school in a rural area in the 70's I wore blue jeans or
wranglers (with a sharp crease!) and cowboy boots (polished.) When I was
doing carpentry and living in Squaw Valley and Truckee I wore plaid
flannel shirts and had hair down to my shoulders.  When I was a field
service engineer repairing scientific instruments I wore "business
casual".  When I ran a technical branch office in Japan I wore a dark
suit.  When I moved to Santa Barbara I began wearing shorts and Hawaiian
shirts quite often. When I travel on my motorcycle I wear jeans and a
black leather jacket.

I'm too much of a geek to want to follow fashion trends, but I've easily
changed clothes styles with much the same attitude as picking the right
toolbox (electrical|mechanical|automotive...) for the day's work.

But here's what's really interests me about this:

I will readily change the appearance and style of my clothes, but I
STRONGLY resist changing my style of communication, WHEN I'M PLAYING THE

To clarify this, I've had no problem communicating in a different style
when at work in the role of FSE, or Technical Manager, or Business
Director.  In these situations I chose what to say and how to say it
based on intended results.  I would choose words to encourage, motivate,
clarify, praise, discipline, persuade, and so on, based on my
understanding of what the other party would best relate to.  Not doing
or saying anything that would violate my moral values, but certainly not
expressing Jef.  I was doing my job, the role was clear, and I did it

But when it comes to personal interactions, I feel STRONGLY that I must
present the "true Jef", and I resist biasing my word choices and style
of communication to match my target audience, be it family members or
friends.  Even though I can clearly see that it impairs effective
communication, I feel strongly that I must be "real" and if I were to
bias my style and presentation that it would be manipulative and I
certainly wouldn't want people doing that when interacting with me.

This has been a big roadblock for me in interacting with people I care
about personally. They know me as sincere, intelligent,...and difficult
to relate with.  Being someone who talks often about the wisdom of
effective interaction, I see that I'm creating my own problem, but I
have not yet overcome the strong sense that if I were to adjust my
communication style and presentation when playing the role of the "real
Jef" then I would be acting falsely.
So, maybe there's an analogy between the clothing style one presents and
the communication style one presents.  For me they seem very different
in terms of values, but I can see that they each may be simply a layer
over the self.

As Lizbeth left for work this morning she said "Maybe holding on to who
you are gets in the way of who you may become."


- Jef

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