Everybody has a smart phone these days, which means that everybody is constantly within hailing distance of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, Settler of Disputes, Furnisher of Backstory, and Destroyer of Conversations.
You start with two people talking over lunch about who played the Riddler on Batman, and the next thing you know, one of them is nose-down, running silent, and plowing the prosy deep. By the time he emerges triumphant with Frank Gorshin in his teeth, the conversation is dead, and poor Frank must float slowly back to the page he came from.
I was in one of these conversations the other night. Long after we determined the length of the Triassic, or whatever it was, my interlocutor was lost in some other dark gallery, bewitched and out of reach. I took the opportunity to order another beer.
The interrupted conversation is a common enough complaint (and likely to get much more common). But there is a pleasant flip-side to the interrupted conversation: the annotated conversation. I was in one of these over lunch earlier this week. We were talking about sociology and cultural concepts of fairness and appropriate behavior. Matt had some good stories, but couldn’t quite remember a key phrase. After lunch, he sent us this email.
FYI, the phrase I was looking for at lunch today was “polite fiction”. This is the passage that I remember reading:
One of my favorite concepts in anthropology is that of the polite fiction. It’s something nobody believes, but we all pretend to because it makes life so much easier. My favorite example was of a Pygmy couple. Pygmy divorce involves quite literally breaking up the home: the couple tears apart their house (it’s easy – the houses are made of leaves) and once it’s down, the union is dissolved. One anthropologist was watching a long-married couple have a fight. It escalated until the wife threatened to leave, and the husband yelled something along the lines of “Fine!” and there was nothing the wife could do but start tearing down the house. She began tearing the roof off, clearly miserable. The husband looked wretched too, but at this point neither could back down without losing face and by now the whole village was watching.
Finally, the husband called out the Pygmy equivalent of “You’re right, honey! The roof is dirty! It’ll look much better once we get those leaves washed!” The two of them started carrying leaves down to the river, soon with the help of the whole village, and then washed and rebuilt the whole roof. When the anthropologist later discreetly asked how often one washes the roof, everyone looked at him like he was a complete doofus.
For the not-work-safe context this came from, see this URL:
Oh, and here’s the parable I tried to tell:
This little note was a real gift. It was a reminder of an interesting conversation, and a resource for future ones (not to mention being blog fodder). And it didn’t interrupt the friendly flow of conversation. Rather, it recalled it after the fact. I love the Annotated Conversation. We’ll be seeing a lot more of those too.
Have you had any?