The Coin of Observation

You’re reading my blog. Are you doing that because you know it will make me happy? Did I write it for you because I knew it would make you happy? The fact that one can never know what someone else is feeling notwithstanding, the answer is more than likely going to be an unequivocal “no”.

I’ve mentioned before how uncomfortable I find the attention of those around me. That extends to people thinking about me, as much as it does to people looking at me. Actually, more so; but less so than people talking about me: that just makes my skin crawl. Even thinking about it now makes my shoulders itch. Do you recognise that sensation? I much prefer to keep myself to myself in all things.

I have a bugbear. It turns out that I absolutely hate it when people are anticipating – or attempting to anticipate – my needs. Recent example: I am using a computer, rather than my phone, scrolling through a page of products: any time my mouse hovers over an image, a bigger image pops up and tells me about the great thing my mouse has hovered over. Some providers even start the series / film I was attempting to scroll past if my mouse has the temerity to be still too long. These days I scroll with my mouse almost just off the side of the screen on almost all websites, for fear of needs.

Conversely, yesterday it was recommended to me that I swap the perfectly comfortable jeans I was wearing for shorts. I had mentioned that, after boiling a pan of water, I was a little sweaty. It was an observation, not a complaint: yet here I was being worried about, having my comfort ascertained by someone else. This happens a lot; I am sick of being told how uncomfortable I am. The folk who tell other people they look uncomfortable tend to be unshakeable in these assumptions. I do not get it.

I rarely find myself at either extreme of the scale of comfort; I’m usually somewhere in the middle, just feeling OK. “Fair to middling”, as they say in Yorkshire: that about sums it up. Why should that be such a contentious sensation for other people to understand? Is there something wrong with me?

Another example: bedding. Just because it is unimaginable to you that you could, would, should ever sleep on a sheet which has a wrinkle in it does not mean that, to me, it will be the end of the world. I just don’t care that deeply, if I notice at all. I am genuinely starting to think that I have fewer nerve endings than everybody else. I cannot imagine even noticing the difference between a wrinkled and an unwrinkled bed. This is an odd tangent to have wandered off on, but there you very well have it.

I have other concerns; I have other bugbears. I have many downright furious questions. Let’s try one.

Technology is deliberately intrusive, and increasingly so. I submitted an enquiry form to a company who manufacture window frames; I was asking about locally based, authorised fitters and suppliers of their windows. Rather than hearing back from the company I contacted, the company with whom I had initiated contact, the company I chose to start a relationship with, I was contacted by another company entirely. Yes, they had passed on my details to precisely the kind of company I was in the market for being contacted by; however I felt utterly violated by the assumption of my permission.

Another example: I recently read of “Manspreading” being described as a deliberate act. That’s not quite how I see it: I don’t think the men doing it have any awareness of the effect that they’re having on the people sharing their space. Because the observer is more considerate than the men viewed, they assume everybody is so too. Not even close. We all react very differently to being observed, or to observing other people: I think that that’s fairly safe to state. It would seem, however, that some people cannot help but project their world view on everyone else, against evidence to the contrary.

To me, all of the examples I have set out are two sides of the same coin: The Coin of Observation. I can never tell whether it’s heads or tails. In all honesty, do you think you can always pick it out?

On one side, I want my loved ones to be physically comfortable, so I will suggest to them a change of clothes if they are likely to be too hot, too cold, or covered in freezing water. On the obverse, I hate to have my needs anticipated, and so will repel any attempt to help me out in any way at any time.

Heads: I want it to be clear which snippets of information I want at all time; I want the computer to give me what I want, when I want it, and to know which screen I am currently looking at, without my mouse even being in the vicinity. Tails: I don’t want to have my screen filled with adverts for things I am not interested in, I do not want to be distracted by fluff, and I do not want to feel observed.

Upside: I behave the way I do because it comes naturally, and feels like the right thing to be doing at that moment in time. It’s not always the right thing, and sometimes it upsets people. I do not always feel proud of my actions. Downside: a lot of people believe quite earnestly that I am an aggressive sociopath who passes nothing but screamed, hateful, negative judgement on everybody at all times.

I don’t watch people and try to work out what their intentions are, so I don’t assume that people are doing that to me. Yet, I always feel that I am being watched, and that makes me feel uncomfortable.  I understand that this is a contradiction. Window manufacturers assume that they are helping me to achieve my goals when, in fact, they are being rather creepy and off-putting. Websites assume that my mouse hovering means that I am interested in finding out about a product, so they think they are helping. Admittedly, when I want to be helped, that is precisely what they are doing, but not always.

I suppose what I am getting at here is that if you don’t like what you see, or how you are seen, flip the Coin of Observation and imagine how they would perceive your actions, or how your actions could, would or should be perceived. In either case you’ll more than likely get it wrong, but at the very least you’ll be too busy thinking to actually act on your misguided judgements, and that is very much a positive outcome from my point of view. Sometimes, the thing we can all do to understand each other better is to stop trying so hard to understand each other. Simple, but effective, advice.

In fact, just stop trying to tell me what I am feeling, and shove the Coin of Observation up your arse.

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