Saturday 25 October 2014

Working it out: Don't let the drink do all the talking

John Masterson

Published 31/03/2014 | 02:30

Cutting down on drinking may be an alternative to not drinking at all in January.
Cutting down on drinking may be an alternative to not drinking at all in January.

IN-CAR breathalysers are being tried in a number of states in the US. The idea is that your car will not start if you are not fully sober. Not a bad idea, I think.

Perhaps someone would consider extending it to our phones and computers. It is all too easy to be polluted with drink, but still able to put in your pin code and press a few buttons and communicate absolute rubbish, which you cannot take back, to the world at large. Don't tipple and text was in the halfpenny place. At least in those days you were only making a show of yourself to one person at a time.

I like to look into people's eyes when I am talking to them. I like to talk to the whole person. Conversation is not just about words. It is about intonation, pace, posture, reciprocity, muscle tension, eye contact. And that is just for starters. We read each other, partly consciously, and largely unconsciously. Sometimes we know magic is happening and we don't really know why. Sometimes we know that the vibe is bad. Again, we might not be too sure how we know this. But we do.

With all the cues going on in a conversation, it is a complicated affair. But it is because of all these cues that mostly we do not make fools of ourselves by saying things that are wholly inappropriate. We might fancy someone like mad, but if we are not feeling the vibes coming back we know better than to make a move. Throw in some alcohol and our ability to read all of this is decreased. Anyone who has ever taken a drink will be able to recollect times when they have got it wrong. That could have been slightly embarrassing. Or worse. Take away the body language, and just leave the words, and we have stripped out a lot of communication and greatly increased the possibilities of misunderstanding.

The beginning of the film Closer illustrated it very well. Clive Owen plays a randy medical consultant on his computer while Jude Law plays a cheeky writer with nothing better to do than pretend to be a woman and engage Owen in a flirty, or filthy, conversation. Owen is having a very sexual time and Law is laughing up his sleeve. A tale of sexual disappointment and jealousy ensues. I don't think the way Owen responds to someone he does not see, does not know, but is writing online seduction to, is wildly different from the way real people get involved on the net with text, in the complete absence of all of the other cues that make up communication. And that is before we throw in some sexual deprivation.

Maybe online dating is a good alternative to drunken conversations in a nightclub. But you can probably learn more from a drunk in front of you than some online flirtation. If you are 'talking' to someone online who you do not know, and it turns you on, turn the laptop off and read a magazine. Plus pour the drink down the sink. You might keep your job. And some self-respect.

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