Sensing between self and other

We know that the probability and speed of response in communication vary with it being mediated or direct (Bavelas 2007). In face-to-face dialogue, responses are highly probable and fast. Frame-by-frame micro-analysis reveals that listeners often provide simultaneous feedback to the speaker (Condon 1967; Bavelas et al. 2000), for example, by nodding and facial expressions. Indeed such responses are demonstratively essential to the speaker in the face-to-face situation, whose narrative falters when they are absent (Bavelas et al. ibid). We sense and time our coordinations in the immediacy and mutuality of embodied face-to-face interaction, and this is highly ‘naked’ (Goffman 1963) sensing and monitoring.

When this sensing is comfortable, we move well together, we are in synchrony with each other. Being able to move in time with another person occurs at multiple levels, and research shows this occurring in the utterances of timed syllables in speech, the pulse of a pause and breath, and synchronized swaying, up to the pragmatic levels of rhythm that express how we are making sense of each other, to each other. Mounting evidence that rhythmic synchrony is fundamental to human sociality (Miles et al. 2009; Rabinowitch et al. 2011; Himberg 2011; Gill 2007) necessitates that we understand how rhythmic synchrony operates in face-to-face co-presence as a basis for guaging the similarities, differences, and changes in rhythmic synchrony in distributed settings and their impacts on us as social beings.

Moving in synchrony with another person involves mutual awareness. As long ago as 1963, the sociologist Goffman spoke of the ‘special mutuality of immediate social interaction’ from a linguistic perspective; we will always ‘sympathetically take the attitudes of others’ in our presence. (p. 16). Goffman described the ‘full conditions’ of co-presence as being about sensing: ‘persons must sense that they are close enough to be perceived in whatever they are doing, including their experience of others, and close enough to be perceived in this sensing of being perceived.’ (p. 17). Furthermore, ‘[social] situations begin when [this] mutual monitoring begins, and lapse when the second-last person has left.’ (p. 18).

This ‘sensing’ between self and other in the mutuality of immediate social interaction is explored in this paper as being realized in synchrony and rhythm. Such sensing is considered as being a fundamental dimension of social presence and to witnessing. Witnessing is meant here in the sense of having knowledge and understanding within the communicative situation and embodies the responsibility necessary for mutual interaction. Each of us has an internal rhythm (e.g. heartbeat, breathing), and when we become aware of another person, in order to interact, our rhythms need to synchronize, and whilst we synchronize, we can become entrained. Entrainment denotes how we mutually adapt to each other’s rhythmic beat (Hall 1983; Himberg 2011). Human sense-making is thereby considered as being a process of mutual adaptation that is rhythmic in quality.