Wednesday 26 March 2003

Telepathy

Dorothea’s response to finding out that I have a mobile phone—she was “completely wogboggled”—provoked a sense of panic that I might be expelled from the Introvert’s Guild. I’ve already pointed out that I have the phone switched off most of the time (in fact, I rarely carrry it with me) and that I delete any voicemail messages without listening to them. To avoid any accusations that I’m not a bona-fide introvert, allow me to explain how I came to have one.

Like Dorothea I couldn’t imagine anything more intrusive. Then, a couple of years ago, at a time when I had to attend a ten-day seminar, my mother spent a couple of days in hospital and I found myself asking a colleague if he’d mind my using his phone to check her progress. The second time I did this I thought to myself: “I can’t rely on payphones to make these calls, I’ll have to get my own mobile phone.”

At the back of my mind was a story I’d heard about certain Amish who eschew the use of modern technology until there’s an accident or a child is ill—then it’s suddenly OK to use a non-Amish neighbor’s telephone. It felt hypocritical to me to be rabidly against mobile phones but to use someone else’s.

I mentioned to my former girlfriend Natsuko, with whom I remain close friends, that I’d decided to get a mobile phone. She immediately said, “You can have mine. I don’t need it anymore.” (Originally a freelance designer, she’d recently secured a fulltime job.) I took her somewhat clunky Phillips Twist phone to the Telstra store, got a new number, and organized a monthly plan. Every month I pay about $25 not to use it. This month, because I’ve been to Melbourne a couple of times, I’ve used it instead of calling from the ludicrously expensive hotel phone.

I was astonished and impressed by Dorothea’s intuitive realization that my mobile phone was a “living-in-Japan thing” because, if I did live in Japan, I would have a mobile phone and I’d use it constantly. Why the turnaround? Because I’m much less introverted when I’m in Japan—I talk to anyone about anything in order to practise my Japanese. When I’m traveling alone, my favorite part of the day is having dinner in a tiny restaurant, where—as inevitably happens when the other customers realize that I drink alcohol and can carry a conversation—I can spend a few hours drinking and chatting. (My Japanese becomes noticeably more fluent when I’ve had a beer or three.) I’d also use the mobile to send and receive SMS messages since that would allow me to practice reading and writing Japanese.

But Dorothea rejected my suggestion of “the ideal relationship (between introverts who can intuitively share their thoughts and feelings).”

Jonathon. Dude. Wrong. Wrong ever so. Introverts are introverts, not mind readers. Trust me on this one.

Chinese characters for Japanese word ishin-denshin (from one heart to another)Interestingly, this idea also happens to be a Japanese thing. In conversations with Japanese about relationships, the term ishin-denshin frequently crops up as one of the characteristics of the “ideal relationship.” The first and third characters mean “by means of” and “transmit, communicate” respectively, whereas the second and fourth character means “heart, mind, spirit.” The dictionary definition of ishin-denshin is “tacit understanding; telepathy; communion of mind with mind” while my Kodansha Dictionary of Basic Japanese Idioms renders it as “from one heart to another” and offers the following supplemental meanings:

immediate communication from one mind to another, telepathy, telepathic communication between people, tacit understanding, intuitively shared thoughts or feelings, to be able to read each other’s mind.

The example sentences suggest how the term might be used by Japanese speakers:

Don’t make me spell it out. You must know what I’m getting at, surely.

Dad didn’t have to say a word. I knew exactly what he was thinking.

He and I know each other so well that we can tell what the other’s thinking.

Chinese characters for Japanese word isshin-dotai (one heart, the same body)The entry for ishin-denshin cross-references a related term, isshin-dōtai, rendered as “one heart, the same body” (which is exactly what the four characters mean, respectively). The supplemental meanings are:

of one heart and mind, as one mind and body.

The first example sentence is similar to those in the entry for ishin-denshin:

We’re one and the same, you and me. You can tell me anything.

But the second could have been written by Dorothea herself:

When they say man and wife are of one heart and mind, isn’t that just a fantasy (illusion)?

It intrigues me that the idea of telepathic communication between lovers or spouses has such a strong resonance in Japanese culture; and I wonder whether this is because Japanese speech and writing are so oblique compared to English. Much of the meaning of a Japanese sentence is inferred rather than stated—for example, I’ve heard it it said that 60% of Japanese sentences lack a subject—and I have to admit that it’s this indirect, elliptical quality that particularly attracts me to Japanese and to the Japanese. I never quite know quite what’s going on and consequently, whether I’m reading or listening or watching, I feel constantly engaged. That is, of course, the antithesis of ishin-denshin, but I only ever cited it as an ideal.

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Comments

My response to Dorothea's wogboggledom was to think "How nice for her that she lives in circumstances that permit her to take such an attitude." My wife and I live in NYC, and we too used to turn up our noses at the damn things, but immediately after Sept. 11, 2001 we began looking for a good deal on a pair of them. We keep them turned off except when we need to make a call and we don't give out the numbers... but we're not going to get caught without means of communication in the next emergency. (They're also a great source of comfort if someone you love is off driving by themselves.)

Posted by language hat on 27 March 2003 (Comment Permalink)

A couple points on that.

First, a cell phone would not have helped you on 9/11, as circuits were jammed.

Second, I know this because I was in Chicago on 9/11, at a conference with a number of employees of New York publishers. I live in Madison.

I accept the use of cell phones in emergencies. Think it's a good idea, even, and I don't think anything I said on CavLec suggested otherwise. Even so -- my husband's going to LA this weekend, and I haven't rushed to buy us cell phones. That's just me, I guess.

Posted by Dorothea Salo on 27 March 2003 (Comment Permalink)

That's why we took care to get cell phones with text messaging capability, which (I am led to believe) did work on 9/11. Everyone has their own breaking point on this, of course, but I'm sure you can imagine circumstances in which you'd reach yours. At any rate, I'm glad you were only wogboggled, not condemnatory.

Posted by language hat on 27 March 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Erk! I accidentally posted this on the wrong entry. Sorry.

I'm a moderately expressed introvert, according to a quick online Myers-Briggs test I did recently. Although I do have a tendency to become quite extrovert in a situation where I feel very safe, say with a small number of family or long-time colleagues.
I'm not sure there is any great link between extroversion and owning a mobile 'phone, though I do think there's a link with the manner in which it is used.
I rarely go anywhere without my mobile. This is partly because I do have children in day care and need to be contactable at all times. It's also partly because I'm a contractor, move around a bit, and my mobile number and email address are the 2 permanent links to me; if I want to get work, I'd better be contactable. But mostly I carry it because it represents a connexion, a link, to a couple of people I love. I tend not to talk on it very much; instead I send a lot of SMS. So it's a very private thing for me, my 'phone. I might be on the train or wherever, but I can have a private exchange of thoughts.
Sometimes I do talk on it for a long time, but again because it's that link to those special people; I can't be with them right now but I want to "touch" them. Yes, I feel a little hesitant to talk in public, and I do guard what I say when there are many people around. And at those times the conversation relies on there being that kind of intuitive understanding, so that we don't have too say too much explicitly.
Interestingly, my wife is a borderline extrovert and is most uncomfortable using her mobile, except for SMS. However, my closest friend, the other person I talk to, is similarly introverted to me and talks on her phone a lot. She and I might chat for an hour, which is unlike me to do normally. Not being together all the time, we've had to make email and 'phone the "space" where we meet. I think -- hesitatingly, as I'm not quite sure -- that both she and I, as introverts, can retreat into a private space where we don't apprehend the people around us and are therefore free to talk "in private". My wife, by contrast, is extrovert enough to be aware of her public situation, but not sufficiently extrovert to be comfortable talking out loud in that situation.

Posted by Andrew on 27 March 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I don't think one can posit a connection between communication technologies and personality type. Though I am an extrovert, I hate cell phones and don't own one. Actually, I pretty much hate phones altogether.

My reason? I like to see the people I'm talking too. I find it exceedingly rude when people spend inordinate amounts of time talking on the phone when there are live humans in front of them-- or when they stroll through shops chatting as if the world were their personal phone booth. I can see the utility of the technology for business or for emergency calls but not much else.

Personality only enters into things when discussing the motives for using the technology, not the technology itself. While technology isn't immune from social or personal bias, it is dangerous to read too much into its use.

Posted by Jeff Ward on 29 March 2003 (Comment Permalink)

As a human being, I belive we have this power of telepathy communication, I wonder how to do it power, where? when? but in my experiance example "you cant have a feeling of somebody without he/her to feel you first". my question is it true and how we can communicate in telepathy?

thankx

raschuse - tanzania tabora

Posted by Hussein A. Hazam on 22 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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