I very rarely look at people. I've made efforts before to change this behavior, but they never last very long. Now I know why. Cognitive Daily (probably my favorite weblog of late) wrote about an experiment looking into what causes people to look away, which concluded: the reason for looking away is probably simply to reduce the overall cognitive demand and focus on the question.

"The question" in the experiment is one asked by a conversation partner, as it is for most people, who tend to look away mostly when considering an answer. I'm almost always looking away because I'm almost always thinking about something. I'm not saying I look away because I'm smarter than most people (though I am - and so are you most likely); I just think with more concentration, more constantly than most people (I think).

Sometimes this is a good thing, but it's not something I know how to control. I put as much thought into the answer to a rhetorical question as I do into a real problem, not because I don't realize it's rhetorical, but because I don't have an off switch for thinking. Sometimes less thinking would be better.

I think most of my music comes from answers to questions no one asked me. Which is good - I like my music. On the other hand, it makes it difficult for me to record music, especially with complicated recording tools. Bias Peak and Pro Tools are probably great recording software, but I can't play a song while looking at all those buttons. There's too much going on to keep my attention on recording. I want something simple, like Audicity, which doesn't tempt me to think when I should be playing. And even that has too much to think about. I'd like recording software that made the screen go black while recording.

And the same is true of looking at people. There's too much going on in a face to keep my attention on the question. I could look at a cartoon all day and think about something, but people are too interesting, and if I start looking at them, I'll start thinking about something, and then I have to stop looking at them or I'll lose my thoughts and never answer the questions.

I gather most people don't care so much about all these questions. And maybe they're right. Today at work I asked someone "if you hire a siamese twin, do you have to pay both of them?" (Yeah, I know, "conjoined twin," but that's not what I said.) That's not a question most people think to ask.

And that's just what made it past my filter. I spent a few minutes today thinking about how web browsers communicate a cancelled authentication attempt back to servers, and why Safari doesn't seem to do this, and whether anyone has submitted this as a bug report, or whether it is in a spec somewhere that this should happen. I didn't ask anyone else these questions because I know they are neither interesting nor amusing to most people. These aren't questions most people spend time thinking about. Instead, they spend time looking at people's faces.

Is looking at people more important than all these questions? That's a question I'll have to think about some more.