Douglas Rushkoff on Nonverbal Communication


When the social now is relegated to the multitasking digital environment, we may expect the results we have been witnessing: teen suicides, depression, higher stress, and a greater sense of disconnection. It’s not because digital technology is inherently depressing, but, again, it’s because we are living multiple roles simultaneously, without the time and cues we normally get to move from one to the other.


In the real world, 94 percent of our communication occurs nonverbally. Our gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, and even the size of our irises at any given moment tell the other person much more than our words do. These are the cues we use to gauge whether someone is listening to us, agrees with us, is attracted to us, or wants us to shut up. When a person’s head nods and his irises dilate, we know— even just subconsciously— that he agrees with us. This activates the mirror neurons in our brains, feeding us a bit of positive reinforcement, releasing a bit of dopamine, and leading us further down that line of thought.


Without such organic cues, we try to rely on the re-Tweets and likes we get— even though we have not evolved over hundreds of millennia to respond to those symbols the same way. So, again, we are subjected to the cognitive dissonance between what we are being told and what we are feeling. It just doesn’t register in the same way. We fall out of sync.


We cannot orchestrate human activity the same way a chip relegates tasks to the nether regions of its memory. We are not intellectually or emotionally equipped for it, and altering ourselves to become so simply undermines the contemplation and connection of which we humans are uniquely capable.


Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (pp. 126-127). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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