October 23rd, 2007


Thinking about Signaling

A lot things people do aren't rational in the sense that we get a tangible benefit from the action. However, these things are important because they allow us to send messages to other people about who we are, who we want to be, and who think we are.

For instance, we don't get a tangible benefit from putting bumper stickers on our cars. But the Star Fleet Academy label in the window signals to other people that are one of your group.

In the world of reading, it's not uncommon to have books considered classics on one's shelves. We may not enjoy them, and sometimes may not even read them, but their presence signals to other people that we are well-read.

I don't do a lot of signaling. At least not that I can think of. But there are some things. I keep many of my books. There's not a lot of tangible value for me to have a wall full of books. I won't re-read all of them. There's a bit of tangible value in that I have a stock of books to give away or lend (which is what happens to many). But mostly I have the books to signal that I like to read.

Dressing up to go out is a form of signaling. There's no tangible benefit to wearing dark spooky clothes. There's some benefit to it in that I may like a particular look. But most people don't dress for their own viewing pleasure. They are dressing for the signals the clothing sends to other people: I am one of you, I am wealthy, I am attractive, I am good in bed, or I am a freakazoid (Keenan).

I'm trying to think of what else I do that is primarily for signaling reasons.