Dubai: One of the most keenly awaited authors at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature to be held in March next year, Ty Tashiro’s approach to explaining the characteristics of awkwardness in humans has won him the admiration of millions of readers. His book ‘Awkward, the Science of Why We Are Socially Awkward and Why that’s Awesome’, explores many facets of this trait, with surprising uses for it as a tool to enhance one’s image socially.
Tashiro, who lives in the US, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and a PhD in psychology from the University of Minnesota. He has long been interested in examining human emotions and relationships and his expertise is widely sought on providing a scientific temper to the examination of these issues. In an exclusive email interview with Gulf News, he talks about what makes him delve into these matters.
You have referred to these times as a golden age of awkwardness. What makes you say this?
When I was a teenager back in the late 1980s, the worst thing you could be called was a nerd. The nerd was someone who was really passionate about something that was decidedly uncool, things like playing the clarinet, television shows like Star Trek, or school subjects like math or science. In the 2000s, the term we use more often in the US is ‘awkward’ instead of nerd, but somehow being awkward became a source of pride and something to be celebrated. The golden age of awkwardness has seen technology geeks become celebrities (e.g., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates), nerdy interests become cool (e.g., ComicCon), and even movie stars identifying as awkward (e.g., Awkwarfina).
You say that revealing embarrassment on awkward episodes is viewed a ‘prosocial’ by others. Is this one of the ways in which the awkward earn higher social value? Does it come at a price?
In a perfect world, we would never do socially awkward things and never have anything to reveal. But the reality is that we all have awkward moments, and awkward people have quite a few awkward moments, so when that happens, the best thing you can do is embrace the reality that you have done something awkward. Sometimes we hope that no one realised that we accidentally said something insulting to them, but when we do something awkward, everybody knows so we might as well acknowledge it. A great example of this is the reflex to blush. Researchers have found that when people blush after doing something awkward, other people find them much more likeable than people who do not blush after doing something awkward. We like people who blush after a clumsy social situation because it acknowledges that there has been a social faux pas and also shows remorse for any inconvenience caused by the awkward behaviour.
Do you really believe people stricken by awkwardness will truly get to a space where they believe they are awesome?
The awesome part of the book title comes from a consistent finding in social science that giftedness and awkwardness seem to go hand-in-hand. Awkward people tend to have an ability to sharply focus on the things that interest them and be incredibly persistent at become knowledgeable about their interests. Awkward people also tend to see the world with a unique perspective, which is why they miss some social cues that are very obvious to others, but their unique views, strong focus, and persistence set them up well to achieve extraordinary things. That being said, not all awkward people are gifted and not all gifted people are awkward. In addition, some awkward people struggle with trying to fit in and that can cause a good deal of distress, so it’s not exactly easy for all awkward people. But what seems to be common among awkward people is an intense passion for the things that they love. If someone can find something that provides tremendous purpose and meaning while also developing the social skill to maintain gratifying relationships, then life can indeed be awesome.
What do you look forward to during your visit to the ELF in Dubai?
I am so excited to attend the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai! I have never been to Dubai or anywhere in the Middle East, so this will be an exciting opportunity to see a new part of the world for me. I’m also excited to meet other book enthusiasts and learn from what they have to share.
What does awkward look like?
Ty Tashiro provides a checklist of signs
A. I have trouble with social skills.
B. I am uncomfortable dealing with emotions.
C. I am uncertain about how to behave in new social situations.
D. I become obsessed with one thing for months at a time.
E. I have a hard time understanding what other people are thinking.
F. I tend to see details before I see the big picture.
If readers wish, they can take an Awkward quiz at: http://tytashiro.com/awkwardquiz/