No glasses, no conversation

​The barber receives the following complex instructions every time I visit: trim the sides, take some off the top, and get rid of most of the beard. Issuing these instructions takes less than ten seconds. Which leaves about twenty minutes to fill up with innocuous conversation. When it comes to those minutes, I have two strategies, and which I choose depends on whether I’m wearing glasses or contact lenses.

If I’m wearing contact lenses, I’ll engage the barber in general chit-chat; my work, their work, this week, last week. You know, nothing too generic-slash-boring and nothing too controversial. But if I’m wearing glasses, that means I have to take them off for the duration of the cut. If you don’t already know, I have quite bad eyesight, and without glasses or lenses the world is a blur. And when I’m sat in the barber’s chair, unable to actually see much of what’s going on around me, it’s way easier to not talk. When I can’t see the other person’s facial features and expressions, awkward silences aren’t so awkward.

I don’t know why this is. The objective reality of the two situations—being able to see and not being able to see—is the same; I’m sat in the chair and the barber is flitting around me, helping me look less trampy. But not being able to see means I can endure twenty minutes of complete silence if necessary—I know this because I tried it the last time I went. No glasses, no conversation; it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

This information has little practical utility for you, and it’s of minor import to me. But it does hint at a relationship between visual stimuli and our ability to engage and build rapport with another human being. Maybe this is why connecting over the phone or holding a conversation on a choppy Skype call is so difficult?