Human Interaction Design
July 2, 2010 § 4 Comments
A story to share.
Sitting at the bar the other night, an acquaintance of mine walked by with his new girlfriend at his side. She’s also an acquaintance of mine, almost a full-fledged friend. I turned to say hello to him. His face lights up, he sticks his hand out to shake mine and then goes in for a full man-hug.
I hug him back.
“Dude!” He says. “Great to see you!”
His exuberance caught me by surprise.
“Good to see you, too.” I reply in kind, smiling. Always nice to get some love.
“I haven’t seen you in forever!” He says.
“Yeah, it’s been a while. How you been?” I ask, trying to keep my voice up to match his mood.
“It has, it has been a while. I’m doing well!” He says. He then looks down, snaps his fingers a couple times, then raises his head and looks me in the eye. “I haven’t seen you since that time you were walking out of the Red Garter Lounge with Josh.”
(For those who need the obvious spelled out for them, the Red Garter Lounge is a house of moderately ill repute.)
“That’s weird.” I say. “I’ve never been there.”
“Really?” He asks, his face paling, grasping for answers.
“No, man.” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t even know where it is.”
“Oh my God, man. I’m so sorry.” Scrambling, he asks, “You know a guy named Josh Smith?”
“No.” I say. “Never heard of him.”
Then his face, once drawn, suddenly lights up. He puts his hand on my shoulder, leans in a touch. “Man, I’m so sorry, you look just like this guy I know. It’s amazing.”
“That’s funny.” I say. “You’ve told me that before.” (He has.)
“No, man. You really do.” Pause. “But it’s cool you’re not him. Because that guy’s a douchebag.”
I furrow my brow. “But you seemed so happy to see that guy. You even hugged me thinking it was him.”
“Yeah, I know.” He said. “But trust me, that guy’s a douchebag.”
“Cool, I guess.” I said.
We talked for a few more moments and then he left.
This story, albeit extreme in example, illuminated the many ways we interact with each other. Nearly all of us do this on some level. Sometimes, it’s a relative we can’t stand and end up treating them like royalty. Sometimes, it’s an old acquaintance that we never had strong feelings for and we ask them a million questions about their lives to feign interest.
Other times, it works the other way. Sometimes, we really like someone, but we don’t want them to think we like them too much, so we dampen our mood. Or maybe we try really hard to act a certain way because we think a person will accept us better if we act that certain way. We are weird beings.
We act this way to grease the skids of society. Our personal worlds—and the world at large—tend to function better when we are all getting along, our actual feelings aside. This is basic human interaction. How we act in a scenario where we are changing the face of our actual feelings is human interaction design.
That guy in the bar that night obviously thinks my doppelganger is a douchebag. Why would he treat me so exuberantly, then? Maybe the guy in the bar likes hanging out with douchebags because he himself is a douchebag. Maybe the guy in the bar is in a one-down position at work and needs to be nice to the douchebag. Or maybe he acts that way because he feels compelled by religious or spiritual reasons. Who knows. Ultimately, though, his overreaction to seeing his douchebag friend ultimately served to let the world function a little better. All this even if his act of exuberance bred discomfort in him.
Or he could just be a heartless manipulator who doesn’t feel discomfort. All of which would make his design much more complex and disturbing.