Meaningful Digital Spaces: Sense of Place in a Hollow World 3


Theory of Space

 In his Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, Archytus writes, “Place is the first of all beings, since every­thing that exists is in a place and can­not exist with­out a place.” The same sen­ti­ment is echoed in near­ly every cre­ation story; “In the begin­ning God cre­at­ed the heav­ens and the earth.” But our thoughts are not always tied to place. We are capa­ble of abstract con­cep­tion. Even so, our metaphors are often built upon phys­i­cal rela­tions and housed in geog­ra­phy. Place is the con­text with­in which the great major­i­ty of our thoughts occur; we are spa­tial, and spaces inevitably become mean­ing­ful to the human mind.

 In “Wisdom Sits in Places,” ethno­g­ra­ph­er Keith H. Basso hones in on the Western Apache expe­ri­ence of geog­ra­phy, explor­ing the com­plex struc­tures of ideas, sto­ries, and songs that they have built over the phys­i­cal edi­fice of their land. The heart of this struc­ture, Basso argues, is “that close com­pan­ion of heart and mind, often sub­dued, yet poten­tial­ly over­whelm­ing, that is known as sense of place.” The land begins to devel­op its own nature, even its own “voice.” Important sites come to “gen­er­ate their own fields of mean­ing” via the con­tent imbued by human minds, and that mean­ing is often dis­sem­i­nat­ed with­in and sup­port­ed by a com­mu­ni­ty, as it is with the Western Apache. Shared land, and espe­cial­ly shared dwelling, thus yields an inevitable pool of shared mean­ing.

The advent of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy enabled, appro­pri­ate­ly, the advent of vir­tu­al real­i­ties and vir­tu­al geo­gra­phies, and the abil­i­ty of those geo­gra­phies to mimic phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy is increas­ing rapid­ly. Physical ter­rain seems more “real,” and indeed does appeal to more sens­es than vir­tu­al ter­rain is cur­rent­ly capa­ble of, yet both are encoun­tered and become mean­ing­ful by virtue of their inter­ac­tion with the human mind – in fact, given the nar­ra­tive impor­tance of the events that often occur with­in dig­i­tal land­scapes (we often go to them to wit­ness extreme instances of com­e­dy, drama, etc.), it is no sur­prise that entire com­mu­ni­ties spring up from shared dig­i­tal envi­ron­ments.

As I’ve hint­ed, a meaning-in-place is not inher­ent, but rather imbued. Basso writes that “the self-conscious expe­ri­ence of place is inevitably a prod­uct and expres­sion of the self whose expe­ri­ence it is, and there­fore, unavoid­ably, the nature of that expe­ri­ence is shaped at every turn by the per­son­al and social biog­ra­phy.” Basso sug­gests, then, that geography’s impor­tance is as a mir­ror for the self; I sug­gest that vir­tu­al reality’s “hol­low” qual­i­ties makes it no less valid a source for reflec­tion.

This is the rough map; let’s go gran­u­lar.

Land and Self

The essence of the phe­nom­e­non of place, regard­less of whether a land­scape is vir­tu­al or phys­i­cal, is in the expe­ri­enc­ing and shar­ing of a spa­tial­ly charged envi­ron­ment. Though I encour­age dis­cus­sions about the spa­tial sense of a forum, blog, or other online envi­ron­ment, let’s nar­row our scope to dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of three-dimensional spaces, and (though again, I’d love to see wide-ranging dis­cus­sions of space) specif­i­cal­ly spaces that more or less mimic phys­i­cal real­i­ties. Such devel­op­ments pro­mote a sense of place, and the truth that we are inex­tri­ca­bly linked by a series of com­plex attach­ments to the fea­tures of the phys­i­cal world.

Basso writes about “lived rela­tion­ships” with the geog­ra­phy. These rela­tion­ships are vivid and dis­tinct and beyond count­ing, and they occur when­ev­er a place becomes the object of aware­ness. Most of these encoun­ters are brief, like, “Oh that rock looks sort of like a face,” but occa­sion­al­ly the aware­ness is arrest­ed and the place that arrests becomes the site of “spon­ta­neous reflec­tion” and “resid­ing sen­ti­ment.” One is removed, or removes one­self, from the flow of the every­day and active­ly attends to the place in which one resides. This can take many forms; per­haps the above rock sud­den­ly reminds of my grandmother’s face, and I am remind­ed that time moves so swift­ly, that things pass away, but that mem­o­ry lingers. Perhaps the next time I come to that rock, I think those same thoughts; it’s as though the mean­ing lives in the rock via lived expe­ri­ence. But of course, what is real­ly occur­ring is that the rock is pro­vid­ing an avenue through which the self might reflect back on the self; it offers a spa­tial frame­work to under­stand bound­less notions of time, of being and not-being, and of the death of self.

Spatial real­i­ties can serve as a mir­ror that reflects one­self, or one’s for­mer self, or even who one might become. Sartre, who also wrote of this phe­nom­e­non, noted that “At each moment per­cep­tion over­flows and sus­tains [the affec­tive state of atten­tion aimed at objects], and its den­si­ty and depth come from its being con­fused with the per­ceived object. Each qual­i­ty is so deeply incor­po­rat­ed in the object that it is impos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish what is felt and what is per­ceived.” The “voice” of a place, then, which imparts its mean­ing, should not be under­stood as being con­tained with­in the object; the voice is always our own, speak­ing silent­ly to our­selves. In this way, a fresh or famil­iar loca­tion might become mean­ing­ful, cer­tain­ly more than a sim­ple point in space; Basso writes, “as nat­ur­al reflec­tors that return aware­ness to the source from which it springs, places […] pro­vide points from which to look out on life, to grasp one’s posi­tion in the order of things, to con­tem­plate events from some­where in par­tic­u­lar.” Places are one of the vocab­u­lar­ies we can use to “speak” to our­selves. Because this phe­nom­e­non ulti­mate­ly resides in our own selves, dig­i­tal geog­ra­phy can be just as mean­ing­ful as phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy.

Land and Us

Yet Basso insists that the most intense expe­ri­ences of place are com­mu­nal. Relationships to places are lived most often in the com­pa­ny of other peo­ple; when we speak of a loca­tion, emote of its impor­tance, then we are pre­sent­ing cul­tur­al­ly medi­at­ed images of where, how, and why we dwell. Given the ori­gins of this sense of place, when­ev­er we express our sense of place we inevitably express an under­stand­ing of whom and what we are. This might occur in the man­ner of sto­ries, but even nam­ing a place is a social act of meaning-making. Naming a place defines it; it implies bound­aries, whether they are nat­ur­al (water sep­a­rat­ing land-masses) or arti­fi­cial (state bound­aries, in many cases, or hous­es), and names are social, language-bound – they are gen­er­at­ed to define some­thing not just for the self, but in order to express that def­i­n­i­tion to oth­ers. By push­ing such def­i­n­i­tions from the pri­vate sphere into the pub­lic, greater mean­ing is achieved.

Digital space is also shared. MMORPGs are an excep­tion­al­ly com­mu­nal expe­ri­ence. Players share a mas­sive and coher­ent world, and many play­ers spend enough time in these games that they might eas­i­ly be said to “dwell” there. Even more impres­sive, MMORPGs occa­sion­al­ly pro­duce com­mu­nal sto­ries tied to loca­tions based on the activ­i­ties of the play­ers. Michael Nitsche points to instances like the Ironforge auc­tion house protests in World of Warcraft as moments when a dig­i­tal loca­tion comes to encap­su­late a much larg­er pub­lic sphere than the poly­gons that is hous­ing the actu­al event. Even more intrigu­ing is this account of a sit­u­a­tion in Ultima Online given by Raph Koster, which under­scores the addi­tion­al com­plex­i­ty of player-generated loca­tions:

Once upon a time, there was a very pleas­ant lit­tle tav­ern, the Serpent Cross Tavern. Players could build build­ings in Ultima Online. Players could set up these struc­tures, and they made them into their own, and they told their own pri­vate mytholo­gies and told their own pri­vate sto­ries in ‘em. One day, this group of peo­ple called S-I-N, “sin,” that was their guild abbre­vi­a­tion, decid­ed that they were going to walk around all the player-run tav­erns and extort money. […] And they came one day to the Serpent Cross Tavern—, you know, they were real­ly boast­ful about it. They destroyed a whole bunch of role-playing hotbeds, came one day to the Serpent Cross Tavern, and found an army wait­ing there that creamed ‘em. Setting. Expressive set­ting. That could not have hap­pened with­out the abil­i­ty for play­ers to reshape their space and cre­ate a loca­tion for a nar­ra­tive.

That brings us to our next topic: the impor­tance of the home-space specif­i­cal­ly, and the abil­i­ty to con­trol our own geog­ra­phy.

Home

Though con­nec­tions with geog­ra­phy can hap­pen with new spaces, we devel­op our most inti­mate rela­tion­ships with the home space. The rooms of a house are made dis­crete from one anoth­er via con­struct­ed, inten­tion­al walls, and the man­ner of this arrange­ment has a large effect on psy­chol­o­gy and the lived rela­tion­ship with the place. Now say that with­in that house, there is a com­put­er, which itself is a door­way to myr­i­ad vir­tu­al spaces. This is inten­si­fied when there is a vir­tu­al geog­ra­phy because the spa­tial mind is then acti­vat­ed. The human mind knows how to inter­act in a three-dimensional space, and the user’s avatar moves through the vir­tu­al world as the user does in real life. In this sense, the com­put­er might be under­stood as con­tain­ing thou­sands of rooms of vir­tu­al space.

There is noth­ing stop­ping play­ers from inter­act­ing with these vir­tu­al spaces as they might the spaces of home. Michael Nitsche writes, “Players get famil­iar with new game spaces and learn to mas­ter them, learn to read them, and project mean­ing into them. What they final­ly find in these spaces, then, is a new and altered ‘self.’” This famil­iar­i­ty has also begun to accrue, form­ing cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant bonds that bypass­es phys­i­cal space. Since vir­tu­al real­i­ty has no phys­i­cal site, phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy is no bar­ri­er to access­ing the famil­iar. Nitsche adds that:

Virtual soci­eties can have a “home” in a video game space—one that stretch­es across the var­i­ous planes sug­gest­ed here but can have a defined loca­tion in a 3D vir­tu­al stage. Not only is such a “home” the prod­uct of a cre­ative process by the play­er but—in accor­dance with Alexander’s con­cept of the pat­tern language—it is also capa­ble of affect­ing inter­ac­tors and their behav­ior.”

All games allow for the imple­men­ta­tion of the player’s will to some extent; every action of the avatar in a game is a per­son­al­iza­tion, a deci­sion, to say noth­ing of higher-order inter­ac­tions, such as that offered by mas­sive con­struc­tion engines such as Minecraft or exten­sive tai­lor­ing of the avatar’s visu­al char­ac­ter­is­tics and per­son­al­i­ty such as that found in most BioWare games. Whether these inter­ac­tions with vir­tu­al space are pub­lic or pri­vate, they all involve exten­sions of the self, and mak­ing a home in that vir­tu­al real­i­ty that exists between the mind and its vir­tu­al man­i­fes­ta­tions.

JOURNEY

Thatgamecompany recent­ly released their third title, Journey, in which the play­er con­trols a name­less, gen­der­less, face­less indi­vid­ual on a pil­grim­age to a sacred moun­tain.

     

 Journey is beau­ti­ful, and, in the absence of char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and explic­it nar­ra­tive, the play­er is left with a large dig­i­tal world to trav­el through and reflect upon. There is implic­it mean­ing, how­ev­er; your avatar can sing, and when­ev­er the avatar does, a sigil of four shapes rises above its head.

 Many of the stones you pass in the desert have a sim­i­lar four-sigil shape. If it is intend­ed to serve as a sign of the avatar’s unique­ness, then per­haps those are grave­stones. Moreover, cloth crea­tures rise from the desert to aid you at dif­fer­ent parts of the expe­ri­ence, and they, too, are marked with these sig­ils. However, both the nat­ur­al and con­struct­ed land­scapes are, in Journey, craft­ed – by pro­gram­mers, visu­al artists, and oth­ers – and both are most­ly blank slates into which the play­er must invest them­selves. Symbols abound, but because the cul­tur­al mark­ers lack con­text just as much as the game’s expan­sive desert, its cav­erns, and its snow-covered moun­tain, both are hol­low ves­sels to be filled by the play­er. It’s a game that engen­ders aware­ness and reflec­tion, and offers a series of envi­ron­ments and events that ulti­mate­ly pro­vides a very rich source of reflec­tion.

This reflec­tion is made pos­si­ble large­ly because there is no stat­ed goal. The game begins with the player’s avatar seat­ed in the sand, desert behind and before. The play­er pans the cam­era around to the figure’s back, and press­es for­ward on the ana­log stick used for move­ment. The only things of inter­est are a trio of three stones, two fly­ing ban­ners that twist in the wind, at the top of a near­by hill; so the play­er climbs that hill, and is greet­ed with the faint out­line of the dis­tant moun­tain, and the name of the game – your des­ti­na­tion is clear.

But noth­ing else is. The avatar’s role in the world, its rea­sons for mak­ing this jour­ney, and the his­to­ry of the ruins you trav­el through are all implied; there are murals that hint at the cul­ture and beliefs of the peo­ple of which your avatar is a part, but only the slimmest shades of that civ­i­liza­tion are vis­i­ble.

It invites fur­ther explo­ration, though; the murals depict images like hiero­glyph­ics, and its evi­dent that there is a nar­ra­tive embed­ded in the sym­bols that Journey offers, but it is con­struct­ed equal­ly by the play­er, and the mean­ing of the game is par­tial­ly a reflec­tion of the player’s own psy­che and biog­ra­phy. This occurs with fre­quen­cy in Journey, indeed the cul­ti­va­tion of such moments seems to be the game’s pur­pose. The focus on see­ing and reflect­ing is built into the game. It lacks dif­fi­cult puz­zles, and what obsta­cles there are serve to inspire feel­ings of risk and uncer­tain­ty rather than actu­al­ly obstruct. Even more telling, should the play­er stop mov­ing the avatar to study or appre­ci­ate the view, the avatar will sit, wait, and then images of near­by loca­tions will play out across the screen, as though the avatar were con­tem­plat­ing their sur­round­ings along­side the play­er.

The play­er is a part of the implied cul­ture by virtue of the avatar he or she inhab­its, but is also an out­sider. The mean­ing has already been encod­ed on this dig­i­tal geog­ra­phy, but the play­er comes to it much as an ethno­g­ra­ph­er does to a dif­fer­ent peo­ple, or, more accu­rate­ly, as an arche­ol­o­gist does to what is left of a civ­i­liza­tion. The play­er can­not be said to dwell in the game dur­ing their first trek to the moun­tain, but upon return­ing to the path the land becomes famil­iar enough for Basso’s lived rela­tion­ship to occur.

However, Journey is not a solo endeav­or. Eventually, anoth­er play­er will enter your spe­cif­ic vir­tu­al land­scape and become your trav­el­ing com­pan­ion. Though play­ers are given the option to ignore other play­ers, the mode of inter­ac­tion is pared down. There is no voice sup­port; no method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in fact, other than the abil­i­ty to sing a note of four or five dif­fer­ent lengths and via move­ment. It is pared down from the typ­i­cal suite of inter­ac­tive tools that play­ers nor­mal­ly receive to com­mu­ni­cate in vir­tu­al worlds. However, instead of expe­ri­enc­ing it as a limit, it means that the player’s aware­ness isn’t dis­turbed by the poor sound qual­i­ty of online com­mu­ni­ca­tion or by the spo­ken lan­guage of anoth­er per­son. The other per­son remains, ulti­mate­ly, just as much a mys­tery as the land­scape; it is a vir­tu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the irre­ducible, mys­te­ri­ous other. What is remark­able is that despite these lim­i­ta­tions, the sense of com­pan­ion­ship is, if any­thing, strength­ened. When anoth­er player’s avatar stops to stare at some­thing beau­ti­ful, one feels com­pelled to do the same. If they miss a step and fall behind, one waits. Without fail, the peo­ple I have encoun­tered in Journey have been patient and curi­ous trav­el com­pan­ions.

Because the tools of inter­ac­tion are lim­it­ed, the expres­sions of lived rela­tion­ship that Basso lists (songs, sto­ries, and so forth) are not com­mu­nal­ly built in-game, but some of that may occur out­side of the game via phys­i­cal or vir­tu­al forums. It also isn’t clear that such man­i­fes­ta­tions are nec­es­sary in order to have a mean­ing­ful lived rela­tion­ship with geog­ra­phy; per­haps it is enough to have the expe­ri­ence. The deep well of com­mon sto­ries is valu­able to a com­mu­ni­ty that is locked in one loca­tion by neces­si­ty, but given the capac­i­ty to gen­er­ate new spaces out­side of the phys­i­cal plane, it is worth con­sid­er­ing whether a lived rela­tion­ship with the land is essen­tial to human flour­ish­ing, or whether dig­i­tal spaces might have the same capa­bil­i­ties to sat­is­fy.

Journey is an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment in whether a vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment, encoun­tered in soli­tude or with anoth­er indi­vid­ual, can be mean­ing­ful, and adroit­ly demon­strates that the answer is yes.

Ramifications

Given the poten­tial that dig­i­tal spaces might have as sites for meaning-making, there are a few fas­ci­nat­ing impli­ca­tions.

The loss of a place is a dev­as­tat­ing event in the life of a com­mu­ni­ty; sacred space holds value because of the accru­al of mean­ing and the value that it might hold for future gen­er­a­tions. Converting a phys­i­cal site to a dig­i­tal site essen­tial­ly “saves” it for later con­sump­tion. While the expe­ri­ence of a dig­i­tal site is less vivid given cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions, Journey is an early exam­ple of how dig­i­tal space might become mean­ing­ful. Consider Facebook pages for the deceased; they are vir­tu­al spaces that serve as a sacred place in the lives of many, serv­ing as a recep­ta­cle to remain con­nect­ed to a mem­o­ry. Digital space offers a rad­i­cal chal­lenge to the exclu­siv­i­ty of some sacred sites. The value of a dig­i­tized Temple Mount is appar­ent, for instance. Digital tech­nol­o­gy is chal­leng­ing to the notion of own­er­ship in gen­er­al, since it chal­lenges scarci­ty eco­nom­ics; dig­i­tal geog­ra­phy is a spe­cif­ic chal­lenge to land own­er­ship. I don’t sug­gest that the prob­lems between Israel and Palestine can be solved via a dig­i­tal ver­sion of the Holy Land, nor con­flicts over food, water and shel­ter, but dig­i­tal space is yet a fruit­ful source of shared mean­ing.

Digital geog­ra­phy also begins to call abstract notions like geo­graph­i­cal nation­hood into ques­tion. If groups are deter­mined by bonds that are, ulti­mate­ly, imag­i­nary (as they must be in any com­mu­ni­ty larg­er than a tribe, where every­body exists in a daily face-to-face rela­tion­ship with each other), then the shared expe­ri­ences of dis­tant peo­ple that inhab­it the same dig­i­tal geog­ra­phy might offer an even bet­ter basis of col­lec­tive. The game-playing Norwegian might have more in com­mon with the game-playing Irishman than either of them do with other Norwegians and Irishmen. It is a seri­ous chal­lenge to phys­i­cal notions of com­mu­ni­ty, space, and iden­ti­ty. Technology con­tin­ues to aug­ment the lived expe­ri­ence, and, as Nitsche notes, offers excit­ing new ways for the human self to define itself and its place in the world.


Matthew Schanuel

About Matthew Schanuel

Matthew Schanuel lives in Boston, Mass. He's a beer aficionado, a game player (and designer!), an academic-in-exile, a DM, and, most recently, an employee of a financial non-profit. He draws the comic Embers at night over at http://embers-at-night.tumblr.com/

  • Matthew Schanuel

    Whoops! Forgot to note the excel­lent texts I’m pulling from here.

    Keith Basso’s essay “Wisdom Sits In Places” is locat­ed in the book “Senses of Place,” edit­ed by Basso and Steven Feld.

    Michael Nitsche’s con­tri­bu­tion comes from “Video Game Spaces: Image, Play and Structure in 3D Worlds.”

  • Jim Ralph

    It’s fair to say I loved this Matt, thanks for a great read! I’m remind­ed of some essays I read some years ago on the func­tion and mean­ing of land­marks, which I think in turn had some resid­ual influ­ence on my last post on Skyrim. If I can dig them up I’ll post some ref­er­ences. You’ve real­ly done a great job cap­tur­ing the inter­play between space, indi­vid­u­als and col­lec­tive mean­ing.

    I’d be inter­est­ed to hear more on what you think the prospec­tive advan­tage and draw­backs are of the dig­i­tal space in terms of this ‘meaning-making’? For me, there is an inher­ent sense of tem­po­rari­ness to dig­i­tal space, which is per­haps symp­to­matic of being one of the ear­li­est gen­er­a­tions to find them­selves deal­ing with it. Some day per­haps vir­tu­al real­i­ties will be regard­ed as equal­ly as per­ma­nent and tan­gi­ble as phys­i­cal real­i­ty, but at present I think there’s a wari­ness about just where and how this ‘infor­ma­tion’ exists. I think of my MySpace page (an inter­est­ing title, in view of your arti­cle!) lying now almost as though in state- unalive but unde­stroyed.

    In terms of gam­ing, you also leave me won­der­ing whether there isn’t a sort of vir­tu­al geog­ra­phy that tran­scends the in-game space of indi­vid­ual games. Games have a cer­tain time limit of rel­e­vance after which the vast major­i­ty drop into redundancy- the sequel is released, the servers close, the plat­form is no longer avail­able, and so on. Yet there seem to be these moments which per­sist across gen­er­a­tions of gamers, mean­ing­ful spaces we revis­it again and again in cul­tur­al ref­er­ence. I’m think­ing of Rapture, Midgar, Shadow Moses, that car you kick the shit out of in Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros’ brick­work plat­forms. Hell, I’ve never even played Mass Effect but I get the mean­ing­ful­ness of a ref­er­ence to the Normandy. Given this range of simul­ta­ne­ous­ly recog­nis­able spaces, should we be con­sid­er­ing videogames as a whole as a vir­tu­al land­scape with­in which indi­vid­ual games, or moments in games, rise as land­marks imbued with mean­ing? I’m hav­ing trou­ble hold­ing on to that slip­pery thought, does that even make sense?!

    • Matthew Schanuel

      I’m very happy you love it, Jim! I’d love to check out those links you men­tion.

      It’s inter­est­ing you pick up on the tem­po­rary aspects of dig­i­tal space, par­tial­ly because I find the exact oppo­site when I look at the poten­tial of dig­i­tal space. It’s the per­ma­nen­cy, the exclu­sion from change and myr­i­ad exter­nal fac­tors, that I find com­pelling. What would it mean to save one’s child­hood home in a dig­i­tal frame­work for revis­it­ing? Saving cab­ins by the lake, and Montana wilder­ness, and sacred sites, for us and for our chil­dren? It excites me that dig­i­tal space might even­tu­al­ly offer such expe­ri­ences. For now, I can revis­it a few fic­tion­al loca­tions that entranced me in my child­hood, but dig­i­tal man­i­fes­ta­tions of the phys­i­cal (and vice versa) fas­ci­nate me. Assuming that one main­tains the nec­es­sary tech­ni­cal links to old tech­nol­o­gy (an SNES machine in good work­ing order, for instance), a reset-able site remains avail­able. Digital space seems like the Platonic ideal; by plug­ging in a machine and hit­ting a but­ton, I can access my own unchang­ing Holy Land.

      I like imag­in­ing gam­ing itself as a land­scape; it’s a use­ful metaphor, I think. The gam­ing cul­ture is vague­ly trib­al. We have shared sto­ries and expe­ri­ences (imper­fect­ly shared, but that’s not unusu­al since we’re a big tribe) that we can uti­lize in our con­ver­sa­tions and rela­tions with one anoth­er. The Western Apache may approach a sit­u­a­tion side­ways, con­grat­u­lat­ing a man who has returned from a love-lorn drunk­en stu­por on “mak­ing it back from the Trail Goes Down Between Two Hills,” oblique­ly and soft­ly com­par­ing him to a fool­ish story char­ac­ter to shore up the lessons he has just learned, remind him that he was behav­ing incor­rect­ly, and encour­age him to con­tin­ue improv­ing with­out injur­ing his pride. In the same way, we might invoke sim­i­lar aspects of our shared land­scape as short­hand or much more inter­est­ing social maneu­vers in our own speech and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.