Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: Awkward by Ty Tashiro

Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome by Ty Tashiro, Ph.D.

Awkwardness is like the common cold--humanity seems to be stuck with it. Everyone is susceptible but some people more so. Everyone has the occasional awkward moment while some people seem to exude awkwardness. Psychologist Ty Tashiro realized that no one has pulled together the research on awkwardness and found answers to why we are awkward and what we can do about it. This book presents his findings with a blend of personal experience, real world examples, current research, and deep yet accessible analysis.

The first part of the book looks at awkwardness itself. Tashiro observes that awkward moments come when people miss certain social cues or expectations. For awkward people, their focus spotlights particular details that they find interesting, often missing the larger picture or other critical details in a situation. It's as if social rules are not intuitive or interesting to awkward people. However, once those rules are broken, the lapse is immediately obvious and uncomfortable. Understanding emotions is challenging for everyone and can be more difficult for awkward people. Certain parallels with autism are brought out though Tashiro does not identify awkwardness with autism. Learning some social dynamics and having strategies for dealing with particular situations are ways to alleviate the level of awkwardness in life for anyone.

The second part of the book looks at how modern society is making people feel more awkward. The shift away from face-to-face contact started with the telephone. Now with email and texting, a lot of the important interpretive details (facial expression, vocal inflection, etc.) are missing. The likelihood of misinterpreting or misconstruing an action or statement skyrockets. The problem is even worse in dating, where social expectations have shifted and blurred what used to be clear cut distinctions. When are you just friends? When are you going steady? When (or even if) should you get married? Nowadays, these questions have more ambiguity, causing more awkwardness.

The final part of the book considers how awkwardness is awesome. Tashiro discusses how being awkward is an adaptive trait. Evolutionarily, being awkward would seem like a negative trait that should eliminate those people from the gene pool. The awkward person's ability to stick with mundane tasks long past the point of boredom for a regular person can often contribute to the social group. Further, the ability to focus and to put together seemingly incongruent ideas is a hallmark of innovators and the awkward. There is a parallel or overlap between awkwardness and brilliance. Awkwardness definitely has an upside.

The book is surprisingly engaging. The author usually starts chapters with a personal anecdote (he's had his own awkward life) or a real life example and uses it throughout the chapter to concretize the research, ideas, and conclusions he presents. The blending of philosophical distinctions with actual experiences makes his ideas more understandable and memorable. The book reads quickly and inspires hope for dealing with awkward situations, people, and your own awkwardness.

Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment