16 The 10-Second Commute gossip.16 We use gossip to seek advice, to punish behaviors that step outside accepted social rules, to promote ourselves (or downplay others), or to manipulate beliefs. We can’t possibly evaluate every other person from scratch ourselves gossip helps us know who is trustworthy and who isn’t, even if the information we get could be inaccurate. Some say that gossip tends to be negative specifically because we find negative information to be more diagnostic. But because of this, the sanctioning role of gossip is also a real and present danger—nobody wants to be talked about by others in an undesirable way. Studies of gossip have used several different methods to track it. There are the ones (dating back as far as the 1920s) that had researchers eavesdropping on conversations that happened in public spaces, such as in bars or on busy streets. Others ask people to report on how much they think they gossip, and then there are the more tech-savvy ones that have people wear recording devices all day that randomly capture about 10 percent of all conversations. The tracking studies give us a unique chance to extrapolate and estimate overall patterns and suggest that people spend about an hour a day gossiping (which translates to about 14 percent of their conversations and 5 percent of their time overall—though studies that broaden the definition of gossip to all social exchanges put this number at more like 60 percent of all conversa- tions), that younger people tend to gossip more negatively than older people, and that gossip is overwhelmingly about social information (as opposed to physical appearance or achievement-related news).17 But what happens to gossip when interactions move online? It may change somewhat in form, but it definitely doesn’t disappear. The discreet conversa- tions in hallways or offices have now been replaced with the private chats that occur even right during remote meetings, not to mention the steady stream of text messages exchanged between colleagues at all times. This is the new house of gossip. What better time to comment on others than any time at all, whether during otherwise-dull meetings or when you have a quiet moment to pull out your phone? Text-gossip is ever-available in a way that in-person whispers aren’t. We now have endless access. But some of the essential elements of in-person gossip are missing online, like the subtle but unmistakable changes in the speaker’s body language and tone. Face-to-face, information-sharing gossip will probably come with more open postures and perhaps even a playful tone. Gossip that’s dependent on secrecy may have entirely different facial expressions and body language, as well as hushed tones, that signal the “just between us” nature of the con- tent.18 These may all be more difficult to assess in online exchanges, even those that include video. Just as there are dangers of being overheard in spoken conversation, there are real and present dangers of messages being unintentionally sent into the wrong hands (leading one journalist to comment that this risk keeps her up
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