Did I Just Say That Out Loud? (sigh)

So, I’m on a winding pathway in the urban woods taking my two beautiful miniature Schnauzers out for a much-needed walk. We’re in the small allotment of the huge trail ways known as the “off-leash area”. I say small because the rest of the trails are annotated as on-leash. Consequently, most dog owners take their dogs to this off-leash area. Because it is small, I sometimes find myself a bit irritated when bicyclists speed by (without shouting or honking their horns) or large groups of walkers energetically stroll by, coffee cups in hand, throwing us dog owners and our charges off kilter. After all, they have the rest of the so-called park within which to conduct their activities. For us and our canine charges, this is all we have. This was precisely the kind of irritation I had yesterday when my dogs and I happened upon a young couple ‘experiencing’ the joys of spring fever in the fall sunshine. We were about 200 feet behind them when I found myself telling them to get a room. It was only when they turned around and looked at me that I found myself questioning. Had I just said that out loud? Ugh. Why hadn’t it remained inside my cluttered cerebrum with all of the other wads of data wafting their way through the sticky spaces? I did what anyone would have done at that moment: I immediately gave all my attention to the dogs. Whew! Close call until next time.
Have you ever these embarrassing moments too when you, frantic to remember everything you needed at the grocery store, forgot you were muttering the list as you raced down the aisles? You only realized it when someone gave you the I-bet-you’re-crazy look or the small child pointed at you and asked his mother what the silly person was saying. You felt your ears begin to burn and that unmistakeable warm feeling on your cheeks revealed that the personal had leaked out into the impersonal world. When did this begin and does it mean that you are going senile or crazy?
Over 50 years ago, a Russian psychologist named Lev Vygotsky coined the term private speech. In this case, it referred to the role of language in cognitive development. More precisely, it was the role of this talking to oneself that guided cognitive development. Of course, Vygotsky was talking about children’s cognitive development. By the time we were adults, it was thought that we were supposed to have progressed to inner speech in our planning, problem-solving, and general thinking processes. The child’s outer speech was thought to be used when he/she was confused or having difficulties. If this is generally still thought to be true, what does it mean for those of us who talk out loud to ourselves? Are we regressing back to a time of increased confusion or difficulty? Perhaps we are. After all, so much information is out there now and easily accessible via all of our media devices that just keeping track of one’s social media responsibilities can boggle the mind and overwhelm the senses.
During Vygotsky’s time, learning development was done differently than today as well. It was accomplished much as today through interactions with people and things, but interacting meant a physicality of time and space and the reading of body language, spatial dimensions, and tone rather than the singularity of hastily-texted half words on a cell phone or computer screen. There were more modes of discernment than a simple splash of black and white on a screen. You could see if someone were looking you in the eye, if they had a nervous tick or if they touched your arm to emphasize a point during the dialogue. If today’s main method of communication were enough, would we really need emoticons or acronyms to indicate the tone?
I was having a real old-school dialogue with someone a few days ago. You know, the ones you used to have face to face with someone? She was telling me of a recent special occasion get-together at a restaurant with many young people. It was interesting she recounted because not one person at the long table in the restaurant was actually talking to another person. They were all talking to and about one another via texting. She surmised that it was easier to gossip about another at the table if one were doing it through texting. I was not surprised but thought this rather sad. Where would we all end up if no one were to really have the old-fashioned chat anymore? What would it mean for the term personal space?
So, perhaps as adults we are beginning to revert back to days of confusion and a need for additional external guidance in the form of private speech. Add the fact that more of us are living alone and communicating passively via media devices. No, we’re not going crazy or turning into grumpy, lonely people (okay, maybe we are) but perhaps unconsciously longing for personal interaction and more self-guidance. Either way, saying it out loud in today’s world may mean you are more normal than ever.
One thing I do know, if my dogs ever opt for a less personal way of greeting me when I get home from work each day, it will be the end of the world as we know it.
Woolfolk, Anita. Educational Psychology.
Allyn and Bacon. (Boston, 2002). 661 pages.

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