what is it about seeing someone?

by Hugh

In the past couple of weeks, I went to see some public lectures at McGill and elsewhere: the first was Amy Goodman, of DemocracyNow, giving the keynote at the ReDefining Media conference. Then I went to see cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker talking about language and the human mind. Finally, I saw management guru David Maister (choice quote: “just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy”) at PodcampBoston.

All three were good, interesting, intellectually stimulating.

But, the question is, given that I can (and do) see Amy Goodman on the net, whenever I like; and given that I can see Stephen Pinker present in video in, say, TEDTalks; and given that I could just read Maister’s book & blog posts; why do I want to go to physically see them? What is the value that I get by actually being there?

I had dinner during PodCampBoston2 with a good group: Sylvain Grand’Maison, Neil Gorman, Julien Smith and Anita from LibriVox. And we were batting around ideas about why that physical presence brings more to you than just reading text, listening to audio, or watching a video.

Some theories:

1. 2-way experience
Being there means that you are somehow engaged (or think you are engaged) in a two way communication with someone. I wonder though, in a big lecture hall (both Goodman & Pinker were speaking to hundreds, and I certainly had no sense that they were communicating with me, much less that I was communicating with them) whether this applies. Maybe our subconscious minds trick us into thinking we’d be able to really communicate, even if our conscious minds know that’s unlikely.

2.sharing the experience
Maybe somehow you “get” “more” (more what? how?) from seeing a person live with a group of other people. Is it that you will later be able to discuss it? How does this work?: if you go alone, and don’t know anyone there who you will discuss with later, this one doesn’t make much sense. Maybe it’s something though about being a part of a greater community that shares knowlege? collective unconscious? Hmm, I don’t know about this – though certainly if people you know are going, you’d like to be there too.

3. more information
In person, “more” information is transmitted. This one gets my bet as the most likely, though I don’t quite know what it means. but beyond the explicit information (ie, “here are 7 ways be be effective: make a list, make deadlines…” etc), seeing someone live transmits a richer breadth of information. voice, body, brainwaves… i don’t know. somehow information is transmitted more easily (for me) and with a sort of 3 dimensional context that you can never get from text alone, but more information as well, not contained in the explicit info; for me personally audio is a better way to understand concepts (probably that’s not true for everyone; and for detailed knowledge, text is always better); and video is “better” I think, though I prefer the flexibility of audio – you can listen while you do other things. But live, has something more than all that.

Probably it’s a mix of all three, but i think #3 is the most interesting. But the question is what exactly do you get that is *more* … ? any ideas?

Other ideas:
* seeing someone famous or smart in person gives you some perceived smartness and famousness in the eyes of others … when you tell others about the smart/famous person you saw.
* smartness and famousness actually rub off on you – and you get smarter and famouser by seeing someone smart/famous
* seeing someone live *forces* you to pay attention … you don;t have the same distractions as you would when reading, or listening at home (computers, other people etc).

Any more ideas?