15 December, 2006

On the Net, Everybody is… What?

Posted in Asperger's and Autism, Blogosphere, Personal Ramblings at 2:58 am by Daran

(This post was adapted from a comment I made over at Creative Destruction.)

Diane:

…on the net, everybody has asperger’s

You could make just as good a case saying “On the net, everybody is neurotypical”, though I don’t think either statement is accurate. My view is that the net (or to be more precise, non-realtime, text-based communication), is a leveller. The advantage NT’s have over Aspies/Auties in non-verbal communication is neutralised, as are some Aspies/Auties disadvantages.

Some Auties who cannot speak or write can type, and are able to express themselves in fluent, articulate English. Others (or the same ones at different times) produce broken but nevertheless comprehensible English. For many of them, who otherwise would be severely restricted in their ability to communicate (and perhaps have been damaged as a result of that restriction/inability in the past) the keyboard is the great communicative enabler.

The latter is true even for Aspies like me, for whom the mechanics of speech are no problem. I have no difficulty whatsoever in turning my thoughts into grammatical English – in fact, my speech is typically more grammatical than NTs – and uttering them in real time. If I have a topic to talk about, I usually do just fine. I can also do repartee – I’m sufficiently quick-witted. However, I don’t ‘do’ smalltalk. I don’t know how to talk about nothing. When in a social environment in which smalltalk dominates, I tend to fall silent, and usually end up sitting there on my own, hearing, but not really listening to the conversations around me, feeling totally “out of it”. If someone attempts to engage me, I can make a stilted response, but I feel embarrassed and am uncomfortably aware of just how much like Rain Man I sound. An additional difficulty for me is that I seem to find it harder than most people to understand speech against background sound, such as the multiple simultaneous conversations in a smalltalk dominated environment.

Now think for a second about the function of smalltalk as a social lubricant, and you might realise just how much of a disability that inability really is. But on the net I don’t have to do smalltalk. There isn’t much of it, and I can ignore what little there is.

A second key feature of the medium is that it is not realtime. On the net, nobody can see how slowly you type. Even if you are a rapid typist (I’m OK), realtime communication, such as IRC, encourages smalltalk. There is an additional problem with IRC that may or may not be shared by other instant messaging systems. (I don’t know, because I’ve never tried any.) You’re can’t lurk invisibly because your mere presence within a channel is shown to other people on the channel.

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12 Comments »

  1. curiousgyrl said,

    I think the small talk thing often creates confusion and innapropriate stuff around AS– for example a lot of intellectuals hate small talk, claim they dont get it etc, and say things like “I probably have a little Aspbergers”–I’ve heard this 3 times in this year alone in my department.

    In most cases I want to point out that its not that they (we?) cant do small talk its that we’re snobs and social misfits who find it deadly and annoying. Not the same thing. not to say nobody is Aspie but its a department where verbal acrobatics are pretty much the only game in town, so seems doubful.

  2. Daran said,

    I don’t know about your staff, but when I say I can’t do it, I mean I can’t. Not that I hate it, or that I’m a snob, or that I find it annoying. I just can’t do it.

  3. curiousgyrl said,

    Yes thats my point–I think the difference can be missed big time.

    I’m still working through the idea that were all NT or Aspie on the net. I’m not sure thatst true–after all, the incident that set this train off was one which might suggest the opposite.

  4. Daran said,

    I think the key idea was suggested by Aegis – I (attempt to) parse each utterance as a logical statement, to be agreed with or refuted. Then you asked me (in respect to Q grrls comment and the discussion that followed), “why is this important”? And I thought to myself… er… Dunno. Maybe it isn’t.

  5. curiousgyrl said,

    are there particular aspie blogs you read? I like the argument wrt Aspie/NT because it opens up a lot of space for recognizing the advantages and disadvantages of a host of brain arrangements.

  6. Daran said,

    No Aspie blogs. I read ballastexistenz (when y’all give me the time), who’s Autie, of course. I just (earlier today) blogrolled “In the company of wolves” who says shes an Aspie Feminist.

  7. Ampersand said,

    The latter is true even for Aspies like me, for whom the mechanics of speech are no problem. I have no difficulty whatsoever in turning my thoughts into grammatical English – in fact, my speech is typically more grammatical than NTs – and uttering them in real time. If I have a topic to talk about, I usually do just fine. I can also do repartee – I’m sufficiently quick-witted. However, I don’t ‘do’ smalltalk. I don’t know how to talk about nothing. When in a social environment in which smalltalk dominates, I tend to fall silent, and usually end up sitting there on my own, hearing, but not really listening to the conversations around me, feeling totally “out of it”. If someone attempts to engage me, I can make a stilted response, but I feel embarrassed and am uncomfortabl[e]…

    This above paragraph (edited a little because I don’t really remember if I’ve seen Rain Man) is a ridiculously accurate description of me, by the way.

  8. Daran said,

    Interesting. Plus you have a “savant”-like skill (your art).

    How are you at maths?

  9. Ampersand said,

    As I kid I did math fairly effortlessly up to calculus, at which point I quit because once it was effort I realized that I didn’t like math. Nowadays, I’m not as good at it, due to a near-total lack of practice since high school graduation.

    I’m not sure I’d consider the kind of drawing I do savant-like, however. (Not that I’m at all sure what makes a skill savant-like or not. 😛 )

  10. Daran said,

    I’m in the process of restructuring the tags etc, so if you see weird things, don’t worry.

    I’m not sure I believe in Savantism. I think it is functionally a “talent exhibited by a retard”, the two value judgements being that retards shouldn’t have talents, and that Auties are retards. However an Autie who could draw like you do would be considered a Savant, even if your talent isn’t exceptional. (Not saying it isn’t, only that I’m incompetent to judge.)

    Exceptional or not, it is a talent. I could no more draw like you do than I can make smalltalk. My sister can though, but she could never do maths.

    Calculus is a huge topic. I presume you mean “up to elementary calculus” – basic differentiation and integration, that sort of stuff.

    I was exceptional at maths, but I allowed the talent to wither was too broken to be able to focus on it, and it withered. 😦

  11. Jenny said,

    Goin back up to some of the first comments, I think it’s difficult to credit or discredit the inability to make small-talk as a symptom of aspergers. I’m not saying that it’s not a symptom, just that there are many, many people, without aspergers, who find small-talk impossible. And Curiousgyrl’s example of academics is interesting, but it actually makes it hard for me to say one way or the other, since I have a largely academic background (although not currently involved), and also hints of aspergers, though I wouldn’t necessarily link them with each other… although I wouldn’t rule it out, either… hmmm.
    I guess that’s the point: I don’t think you need to be an aspie to feel that small-talk can just seem like such a waste of time, on the whole, when you could be learning something…
    Small not on identity/ies: I only began to refer specifically to myself as a feminist – and I don’t do it often – because it was a label put on me whenever voicing a particular angle on politics, or expressing a particular view of the world. Apparently these views were feminist. But I only spoke about the world as I knew it.
    And I suppose I feel the same way about aspergers. I have a problem with labels and categories, and they usually fall short of explaining anything or proving helpful. I behave and think in the only way I know how – and it seems pretty normal to me – the label ‘aspie’ came from outside of myself, by people who don’t think or feel in that way, and need to label others in order to secure their own ‘normality’.

  12. Daran said,

    Thanks for commenting. I suppose I regard Asperger’s as a group of personality characteristics and skills which tend to cluster, but which any individual may have none, a few, some, many, most, almost all, or all. I don’t know whether the extremes are ever reached.

    So if someone can’t do smalltalk, but have no other Aspie characteristics, then they are neurotypical. Add a few more Aspie characteristics then they begin to have Aspie tendencies, and so on.

    Don’t get me started on small-talk being a waste of time! Neurotypicals can keep a whole roomful of people from productive activity for minutes, indeed whole quarter hours at a time in their addiction to useless chatter!! But that wasn’t what I was talking about. When I said I can’t do smalltalk, I meant “can’t”.

    I agree with you on the subject of labels generally. I hesitate to call someone a feminist (antifeminist, MRA etc.) unless they so self-identify. Rather I see these discoursive positions as a clustering within the space of opinions just as Asperger’s is a clustering in the space of personality characteristics.

    However I feel the opposite with respect to “Aspie”, “Aspergers”. I self-diagnosed as having the condition the first time I read a description, and it was a really “At last I understand” moment. I think “Aspergers” has an unfortunate sound to it – “ass purger” :-/ while “Aspie” sounds trivialising. But on the whole I prefer the latter (as I said before, it has the right verb.) and I definitely embrace the label.


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