Traveling via the Eurostar Train from Paris to London got me thinking of a recent incident were a passenger was set off (a nice way to say thrown off) an Amtrak Train after talking on her cell phone for 16 hours straight! Whew, first off for business I talk on the phone a lot, however 16 hours nonstop save for one would guess several battery swaps is over the top. Also she decided rudely enough to do all of this on a “quite car” which is surprising they let it go that long as the train conductors are lord and master and I have personally seen them put someone off a train in the middle of no-where for causing trouble. As when I queried the conductor about how he could set this trouble maker off the train as he did, he shared with me “the rules” which say that if you can see an “artificial light“, you can toss someone off. Here my assumption around the logic is if there is a light, there is a phone and you’re going to share your problem with the person that owns the “artificial light“, however that’s only a side bar to where we are going.
As the real story is why does someone talking on a cell phone bother us so much, as you’ve been there before, setting next to them in a restaurant. Remember that time with “jabber jaw Jimmy” rambling on his cell as you tried to down your lunch? Yea it’s gets under your skin doesn’t it, however “Talking Tammy” two tables down jawing with Jill and Sue about little Timmy’s latest baseball game doesn’t seem to faze you at all.
The reason is Jabber Jaw Jimmy’s conversation is one sided, so your [brain is] drawn to the breaks in the conversation while “Talky Tammy” may do a lot of what seems to be single sided jawing, however you still hear the primal grunts and occasional word in edge wise from Jill which fills this void. So it’s this strange anomaly or need to “fill in the blanks” which makes Jimmy’s conversation forcibly interesting, still why does our mind seek out these blank informational holes if you will?
Researchers at Cornell University have coined this one sided conversation attraction a “halfalogue” and shown in fact it does have a negative or limiting effect upon the cognitive performance on the people around the “talker”. In fact there has been quite a bit of work done on this subject even to further coin the moniker of “The Annoying Guy on the Train Effect”, as even if he was the most uninteresting person on earth we can’t help but eavesdrop.
What drives this powerful compulsion as mentioned above is the “gap” in information a phenomenon first noticed by George Loewenstein in the early 90s when he defined this as the “information gap” theory. The reason for this is our brains like things which play hard to get, much like the way music only excites us when our auditory systems struggle to uncover its order. This is the reason composers add a “tonic” note at the start of a song and aggressively avoid repeating it until the end as the longer we are denied the pattern, the greater satisfaction received once it’s found.
From this there are two key lessons to take away, as the first is our brains love to seek patterns in things be them sounds, pictures or words. Therefore building communication models which take advantage of this attribute is key as it taps a compulsion which is difficult to refuse. The second is the greater the delay in achieving satisfaction, the greater the satisfaction will be…
P.S. There might be a third lesson here too, as if you live near railroad tracks, turn your lights out at night save you might end up with unwanted visitors.