Say you’re on a first date. Your eyes glaze a bit as the guy you’re with drones on about his ex-girlfriend’s mean-as-a-snake personality, about his garage’s sporty contents, about the dead-boring novel he’s reading (alas, one of your favorites). He’s cute, and there was a hint of chemistry between you over the antipasto, but as the entrée portion of the evening wears on, you see he’s way too self-absorbed. This dance you’ve danced before, and to no good end; preferable to dancing it again would be a solo evening with a book, Ben, and Jerry.
All at once, though, something shifts; you notice a new patterning to your date’s word flow and a stilling of his body. He looks right at you and asks to hear more about your love of all things Italy. Better yet, he listens actively as your answer, with an openness that’s winning you over. He smiles, and you smile, and all at once there’s hope for the dessert course.
What just happened? Cute Guy was jerk-o-metered. That is, he had been wired for your date — wired to a device that sent feedback on his social-signaling behavior, and that helped him make a mid-course correction (one that netted you some overdue attention).
As Alexander Pentland writes in Honest Signals, the jerk-o-meter is real, just one example of a class of devices called sociometers. Pentland, who heads the Human Dynamics Lab at MIT, thinks that sociometers will revolutionize our understanding of human communication.
You might even be able to demand, in some future date, that all your audience are wired before they show up for your lecture 🙂