A Dilbert cartoon shows Dilbert and a co-worker madly clicking away on their Blackberries while a third, who they are ignoring, says, “I don’t believe in Blackberries. I prefer the old ways.” He adds, “The only effective way to communicate is person to person,” while the other two continue clicking, oblivious.

One clicks a message, “What’s he babbling about?” To which the other responds, “Something about being old.” At that the third guy protests, “I’m a person!”

To the extent we turn attention away from those we are with, we treat those who are with us as a virtual object – what Martin Buber called an “It.”

As I describe in Chapter Seven of Social Intelligence, “When other tasks or preoccupations split our attention, the dwindling reserve left for the person we are talking with leaves us operating “on automatic,” paying just enough attention to keep the conversation on track. Should more presence be called for, the result will be an interaction that feels “off.”Multiple preoccupations take a toll on any conversation that goes beyond the routine, particularly when it enters emotionally troubling zones. Multi-tasking, that common addiction of modern life, readily slides into the It mode when talking gets added to the mix of other activities.”

When we ignore someone rather than relating to them as a person, they experience a kind of rejection or rebuff. And the social brain registers that hurt in the same neural zone that responds when we feel physical pain.

A word has been coined for how we feel when someone we are with tunes us out completely, and gets engrossed with their Blackberry or on a cell phone. That word is “pizzled.”

It’s a combination of “puzzled” and “pissed off.”

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