Future conversational pinging

In 2017 it’s pretty obvious when someone isn’t paying attention to the person they are with, due to some on-line distraction. You see this all the time: somebody in a restaurant is staring at their phone, while their companion across the dinner table either looks on in dismay, or else gives up and takes out their own phone.

But if wearables take off, then this overt social signaling of inattention will no longer be available. People will look right at you, while secretly scrolling through Facebook, or reading their email, or just checking out the latest funny cat pics.

In response, their conversational companions might develop a new sort of defensive strategy, which might be called “conversational pinging”. Rather than just talking, and assuming one’s companion is paying attention because they are looking right at you, we might evolve techniques to periodically “ping” our conversant, to make sure he is really paying attention.

This isn’t something we generally need to do now, because when in 2017 when someone is looking right at us, they literally cannot be checking their Facebook page. But once wearables start to take over, all bets will be off, and pinging strategies will start to evolve and grow more sophisticated.

Such pings might consist of mentioning a surprising name or topic that is sure to elicit a reaction — unless the other person is not paying attention. Or deliberately slipping a bad joke into the conversation, and acting as though you just said something funny. If the person laughs anyway, you can be pretty sure it means they weren’t really paying attention.

Or else it means they have a really bad sense of humor. In which case you probably shouldn’t keep talking to them anyway.

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