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Will the new Gladwell theory stick?

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The whole world is tipping and blinking because of rockstar MG, and who am I to deny his powers of encapsulation? Since he's been manufacturing theories faster than the JustBorn factory makes Peeps, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there's a brand-new one ready to blow the minds of Oprah and C.O.O.s alike. I'll see if I can convey it coherently to you—I feel so tippy already! (Tipping-pointy takes too long to say, and it always makes me think of the Steve Martin poem: "O pointy birds, o pointy pointy/Anoint my head, anointy nointy.") OK, this is the gist. The blinky thing works pretty well for initial relationship judgments, e.g. I know a louse when I see him. But after you've been involved with someone for a while, it's awfully hard to tell if it's going to last; we're all prone to (as he likes to say) mind blindness. Leave it to Gladwell to pinpoint a technique we've all been using but didn't know it: discerning commitment via concrete physical signals.

This isn't the body language code we had so much fun with in the seventies. It's simpler than that (but, this being Gladwell, infinitely more complex as well, natch). Say you're wondering if the person you've been seeing is interested in more than a casual affair. How do you know? Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology once again, Gladwell breaks it down instinct by instinct. You might be tempted to trust your sweetie's gaze, for instance; eyes may be windows to the soul, but they have deceptively patterned curtains. Same goes for his visage generally, not to mention those theatrical exhalations and comforting hugs—charisma ain't devotion.

Basically, you can't really go by the way someone acts toward you; ultimately, humans need to judge each other by a single standard, another "adaptive unconscious," if you will, and it may be a surprising one. It's the ultimate thin-slicing: the locus of affection is in oscular delivery. I can't do it justice, though; you'll have to take it from him, particularly because, somewhat surprisingly, he repeatedly expresses concern that his message is not being properly listened to.

Look for Gladwell's newest epidoozy on the special table at superstores near you—judging from the galley, it's going to be as massive as the other two. It's called Shoop...catchy.

The Spin Myth [New Yorker, via Gladwell.com]


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