| I and Thou
Gossip & Reality
Gossip is story telling, sound communications that inform, entertain and regulate social interactions. The progression in primate groups from sound communication to language to social regulation with stories is seamless and continuous.
In a pragmatic sense, “Reality” is the patterning of experience, achieved and maintained among humans by consensus. The main vehicle of consensus is language and concepts embedded in the language. To the idealist who imagines a common and peaceful human community, the chaotic and conflicting interactions of local reality-systems is frustrating. Once we realize that one goal of a culture is creating consensus and the main method is language regulation of behavior we are in a good position to consider what is really going on out there.
Dunbar suggested that: ‘The intellectual content of human conversations is often trivial, formulaic and ritualized.” Often the content of small talk and gossip is secondary or irrelevant. Any trivial gossip will do; the value lies in the interaction, the sense of intimacy and the sense of importance that one gives to another when they stop to speak and stop to listen. “
Raskin wrote: “It is the nature of humans to want to connect — we're social and revel in belonging. To get the inside track may involve the use of information currency — Maybe that's what you think — but I know what happened. There is also the theory of triangular communication — that we drift into talking about a third party when we get together with our peers, rather than talking about our own relationship. At some point, the gossip exchange becomes uncomfortable. It reaches critical mass and we move along to incorporate another person in the communication pattern — sometimes the one we were talking about. Tracking this would look like a geodesic dome, with connections all over. There is sometimes an uncomfortable feeling left behind after someone delivers private third-party information. That is possibly because we realize we may be next on the hit list …The only certainty is that rumor, fantasy and fact passing are here to stay. People who lack substance in their own lives will still borrow other people's news to peddle. It is what we rely on for entertainment — and what fuels our pseudo-connections to people we barely know. By the way, those horrid rumors you've heard about me are totally untrue.”
The credibility of a story is tied to the social status and prestige of the storyteller. Small local groups thrive on local stories that obtain the most agreement and the most popular storytellers repeat the most agreeable stories. As long as groups remain localized, their stories can be local and idiosyncratic and need no be congruent with the consensus of a large nation or an international profession.
One of the more prolific stratifications in a modern society can be traced to story telling and degrees of credibility. As students advance though levels of education, they are held increasingly accountable for the sources of the stories. University education requires a disciplined approach to re-telling stories found in books, complete with references. Credibility is linked to a consensus system, to peer review and the prestige of publishing houses and academic journals. Education is associated with the pruning of local and idiosyncratic stories in favor of consensus stories that enjoy wider approval.
Story telling evolved quickly in the 20th century as electronic amplification and broadcast developed into worldwide networks. You could argue that printing was the first revolution in story telling, but had a limited audience because not everyone could read. Radio was the next revolution because most humans could hear and understand spoken language. The gossip function of radio has prevailed over formal story telling. Movies came next and told stories with more poignancy that any other broadcast medium. Television extended story telling by using all the tools of other media. Gossip now prevails on television. Anyone who is interested in social and cultural anthropology can do most of their fieldwork by watching television.