Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Molecular Anthropology, Linguistics, and Me
This DNA sequencing that I am going to be getting done is preliminary to our project. They tell me that they (and possibly others) have identified a genotype that is associated with people's individual preferences about spoken versus written communication. I, for example, loathe talking on the phone and only ever talk to even my sister in IM (I still call my mom though... she's too sweet and old-fashioned for IM). This inevitably causes friction when I run into some (freak!) person that keeps asking me for my phone number and wants to call me to talk about something. Don't call me! We live in the future! Use email!
In my own personal case, I believe my aversion to phone calls is that I interpret what people say quite heavily based on the movements of their lips (though this is true to a certain extent for everyone.) So when I talk on the phone, I frequently have to ask my conversation partner to repeat what they have said, and I have a really hard time following along in real time. I much prefer IM and email, where I can perceive every word that is being communicated with perfect accuracy, and take time to think, check wikipedia, check my calendar, take a drink, get a snack, before I reply.
According to my new anthropologist friends, there are genetic markers which are predictive of the preference for spoken / written communication. On some level, that doesn't make sense to me yet, because our written language is newer than our genes, but on another, deeper, level where I think about how I feel when someone talks to me on the phone, it kind of does make sense.
Feelings don't count for much in science though, so I think a big part of the collaboration will be in using my own area of expertise, human electrophysiology, to start making the gene / communication link make sense by use of an intermediary: the human brain. For example, one question we might ask is this: do the brains of spoken communicators process speech and text differently from those of written communicators and if so, what is that difference like?
We have a long way to go before even starting to design an experiment (let alone collect data, analyze it, and interpret it,) but as we go through those more formulaic phases, I'll be holding on to the excitement of: I get to get my DNA sequenced! And find out if my extreme distaste for talking on the phone has been in my genes all along.