It seems to be in the blogosphere. On many blogs I have read you don’t see a picture of the person first or you see a portion of their face but not their whole face or body. Your first exposure is to their voice, as in writing voice, a representation of who they are nonetheless. Being able to write in your own voice is a great achievement for any writer. But in hearing a person’s “voice” first and not seeing their picture, you get a sense of a person in a way you can’t when you meet them face-to-face.
Have you heard of those musical recitals for some orchestras where the musicians have to play behind the screen so that the judges don’t rule them out based on how they look? It’s true. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this at length in his book, Blink, which I give my highest recommendation. There are other great historic examples of these perceptual challenges as well. For example, until the complete breakdown of the integrity of our voting system the tallest presidential candidate has won – since Lincoln. (Why Lincoln? Because he was the first candidate a lot of Americans had a chance to see in person.) Of course this record was broken when Bush, several inches shorter than Gore cheated the whole electoral process with the help of his crooked brother Jeb - ah - I mean -won the race.
Bush was well aware of these dynamics when it comes to height and the way we judge a person's competence by it, Gladwell called this the Warren Harding Effect. Warren was our 29th president and one of the worst Presidents in history though extremely tall and attractive. Not taking any chances, Bush, during the presidential debates made sure the public would not be aware of how much shorter than Gore he is. His platform was raised to make him look as tall. The media covering the debate was instructed to, in the side-by-side shots, make sure the tops of their heads were level. You can see the camera dip every now and then on Bush. Probably some liberal cameraman pissed off about such a deception.
What does this have to do with geeky being the new cool? Well in the blogosphere you can be reading a person’s blog and they sound cool, interesting, funny, edgy and confident, all things being cool implies. The way some bloggers think and write is hep cat cool. Then you make the mistake of looking this person up on the web, especially if they are one of the more famous bloggers, and there they are at some blogging conference, looking supremely geeky and uncool. The next time you read their blog you become aware of references sprinkled into a post here and there to their greasy hair and gangliness. Dad Gone Mad leaves not doubt of his physical, ahem, let’s say issues. But still, he is cool because he admits in with edge and I like that.
Then there are all the folks blogging who have disabilities. People who are discriminated against in getting jobs and some are shunned by society in general because they are different. But you read their thoughts and they are as crystal clear and relatable as any one having this human experience. I was most struck by this blog. She is amazing and so like you or me in her concerns and the passions of her argument. To look at her you might be put off if you did not understand (see October 29, 2006 post).
This is exactly what happened when the local school sent their psychologist out to evaluate Ellie. Every talent of Ellie’s I mentioned she countered with something that she thought was lacking in Ellie. I told her that Ellie, 3 at the time, knew all her primary and tertiary colors, her alphabet, and numbers up to 10 and was very interested in most things written. She told me that none of that was important and that Ellie should be doing more imaginary play. I then demonstrated how Ellie did do imaginary play by showing her how she interacted with one of her puppets. Amidst Ellie’s giggles, she said, and I quote, “Well, I guess her life is like one big video game.” In sum, she disregarded everything I told her about Ellie and judged Ellie based on how she looked. In doing this, she completely wrote her off. In fact, as she was leaving, her final verdict was this, verbatim, “Well, HMPH! (frowning and throwing her bag over her shoulder) I can see that she is a lot of work!”
I was speechless. I had so many responses I could not verbalize in that moment. The first was, “Well yes any child is if you are doing it right!” Other come backs were more like - YOU STUPID B&TC! And - How Dare you say that at all and especially in front of Ellie, who knows what you are saying – like I told you! And - GET the F*&& out of my house!
I guess it was a good thing I was speechless at the time. There are always going to be dumbasses in the world. Some will have Ph.D’s and hold positions of authority and look like normal people but really just dumbasses.
Perception is a weapon sometimes. It fuels our fears and makes us push people in boxes. When you are listening to people’s voices on their blogs, some of that filtering is taken away and you get a chance to really listen and get to know them without all the sludge of your conditioning to get in the way. Maybe this is my honeymoon period with blogging or maybe I am a geek who aspires to be cool. Whatever the case, I am glad to have discovered this place where people have a chance to get heard with the benefit of a doubt they might not normally get.
I am not talking about only disabled people, I am talking about everyone. If you are a woman, short, a tall man, pretty, ugly, fat, skinny, able bodied, white, black, purple, disabled, etc people have projected their filters on you. They have given you credit where it wasn’t due or underrated you when it wasn’t due and sadly, not seen you for who you really are. Now, I know that what we write on the web is not necessarily exactly who we are all the time, some of us are more transparent then others. The blogosphere, however, allows people to have a voice in society beyond what they might get due to how they look. Blogging exposes me to the voices of the human condition in all its messy glory in a way I would not be able to see face to face. Because of blogging, geeky is the new cool, and it’s about time.