I understand letting some non-essential facts slide if there's little threat that they can be used against you later, but US culture (at least Midwestern business culture) dictates near immediate rebuttal -- no matter how gauche.
In more informal social situations, I don't think this odd social rule is an issue though. After all, if I start talking to somebody at Starbucks about his laptop, it's hard for him to later claim I had an obligation to help him choose the right wireless dongle -- even if he mis-stated his needs for G vs. N connectivity.
Geeks can't see when they're lowering the status of the other person. In fact, they're inept at knowing when to play higher or play lower. I do improv acting. I find improv acting provides an incredibly useful lens to view social interactions.
(Cached link because the Improv Wiki is down.)
What i fear most is not that i might upset someone with my correction, but that someone might not correct me out of politeness if im talking bullshit(i tend to do that often). Thankfully i tend to avoid people pleasers and most of my friends would not hesitate to state my mistakes, even at the risk of insulting me.
1) Hear something incorrect.
2) Can I immediately tell that this incorrect fact will change the conclusion. If so, correct the fact.
3) Else, let the conversation continue but remember the incorrect fact. Keep looking out to see if it changes any conclusions.
I started doing this consciously and eventually its become fairly automatic.
Just look at any thread on this forum: people contribute information and correct each other and it's interesting, not patronizing.
Geeks find the constant back-and-forth of corrections in dialogue to be interesting and educational. Non-geeks do not; they lose interest by about the second iteration, and will become annoyed shortly after.
Little Edit: if you think describing 'I don't agree with you' as an 'altruistic desire to educate' and single-handedly preserving the 'validity of discourse' and the 'truth and correctness of human understanding of the world' is anything short of absurdly presumptuous, you might want to re-read the linked article very carefully.
Not necessarily. Preserving accuracy in a complex system with a lot of data flowing all over the place requires multiple checks throughout the system.
Geeks are obsessed with correctness. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes not. Witness Slashdot discussions.
When I was a little kid, I had a very strong (and I now realize, unusual) affinity for the truth. I would feel bad if I told someone a fact which I later learned to be false. I felt that if I said something that was false, I was contaminating people's understanding of the world, and this was a wrong thing to do. I didn't frame it this way, in those words, of course, but I remember that this was my explicit thought -- that spreading inaccurate representations of the world was a bad thing to do.
I wonder if many hardcore technical people (I am getting tired of the word "geek") perhaps share this early attitude of mine.
To indulge in some evolutionary psychology, I wonder if this aversion to spreading misinformation was an adaptive trait back when proto-humans lived in small troops -- spread misinformation, and people on whom you relied would be lead astray, to your own detriment.
"I want to say true things, but apparently other people want to hear lies," I thought to myself. But I now know that it's more nuanced than that. Typical people ("non-geeks") do care about truth when it directly relates to what they're interested in: usually social status and mating, and if they're unfortunate, survival. Generally, they're not interested in more abstract subjects.
I interpreted people way too literally. If they talked or asked about X, I assumed they were curious about X. I didn't grasp that small talk is about entertainment and insecurity: the speakers reassure each other of their companionship; gauge each other's abilities, motivations, and desires; signal tribal affiliation; share gossip; and determine their places in the pecking order. It has nothing to do with X. X is just a pretence.
Even as I became conscious of this, I often acted the same way out of principle. Alas.
I think that it is even more nuanced than you propose. Often non-geeks are interested in the subject, but may not have sufficient interest or mental energy required for significant, structured thought into the subject. That is the kind of thought that geeks are accustomed to, but to non-geeks, that's what they do at work, not for pleasure (exceptions abound, though. For example, "non-geeks" often put careful thought into sports. Maybe they should be called "sports-geeks").
I regularly am asked questions about technical matters outside of my expertise. I try to draw some logic into the matter, break it down, and come up with a simple, reasonable, and probably accurate answer. If required, the asker is often intelligent enough to come up with a similar answer - or at least an equally plausible one. But they don't want to, so they ask me. And that's okay. If I don't want to think about, I'll tell them I don't know.
And it's even more nuanced than that. Someone might be very interested, on an absolute scale, in some subject. But as long as he's even more interested in social reassurance, gossip, networking, status, and so on, he will prefer conversations that revolve around those instead. It's a matter of priority. Yeah, there's a latent physics geek in his brain, but when he asks you about next week's weather, his goal is imprecise small talk, not a discussion of turbulence models.
At first I felt like I was being wishy-washy (changing my tune) but I later understood it as just an attempt to be right and not give out wrong information. I felt giving out wrong information and not correcting it when I found out it was wrong was breaking the "trust" relationship I had with the people involved.
Even though I am still in that type of a position and still delivering those types of answers, I now attempt to couch said answers in language that shows "this is what I currently believe, and this may change if I get contradictory information."
Also, I notice I am much pickier about correctness if I have recently been programming. My wife likes to point this out: "Oh, you're in THAT frame of mind."
I guess no one got the obscure Feynman reference.
For example, A geek will know various properties of PI out to some number of decimal places etc. If they have to calculate with PI they'll try and use as much precision as possible in order for the results of the calculations to be as correct as possible at the end. A geek knows that if they just say "PI=3 is close enough". Then calculations using PI end up with all kinds of weird results...and cars will fail to roll and houses will fall down, and ballistic trajectories will miss their mark etc. So a pedantic fetishizing over the digits of PI becomes a necessity. It's hard to turn on and off that level of mental discipline, so by force of necessity most geeks simply set the switch to "on".
So a geek necessarily internalizes the practice of being pedantic and sweating the details.
This happens with anybody who sweats the details in a narrow field because they understand that you can reach the wrong conclusion at the macro level if you don't. Even in seemingly traditionally un-geeky fields like fashion or cooking, you find similar types of behavior patterns.
What this essay is identifying is either the lack of the ability in technical geeks to turn off the pedantic-ism or to not forcibly apply it to all aspects of life.
(To me, this is the question that needs answering.)
A few quick illustrations off the top of my head:
* I speak Spanish fluently and was traveling to Honduras with a group of twenty-some other Americans, only one of which had similar competence with the language. They asked me to give them a quick "Intro to Spanish" course. I started with a simplied academic view, "I'll start with some simple vocabulary, some verbs, some conjugations of 1st/2nd/3rd-singular/plural forms to give them an idea of how to talk." I quickly abandoned that, stuck to the "where is the bathroom?" kind of sentences, names of common foods, other words, and a little human-interest history/geography. That approach worked, they could ask for bananas even if their word ordering and conjugation wasn't perfect. They would have been bored to tears after two minutes of a formal language presentation.
* I was working at a startup and a cute phone-sales rep wanted to know more about our product so she could sell it better. She enjoyed biking too. Great, we go on some great bike rides, I try to educate her about our product but went into way too much depth. Her eyes kind of glaze over, I'm really disappointed about her lack of interest in the product. "You really need to know this," I tried to explain. She probably didn't. She just needed the talking bullet points. She wasn't interested the engineering world view of things and I couldn't deal with that. I saw some disturbing rigid tendencies in myself too. The friendly relationship kind of stopped at that point.
* The best support person I've ever worked with was a master at glossing over the truth, in a good way. He'd talk to us engineers, we'd tell him exactly what was going on and how we needed to change a configuration or fix a bug or apply a patch. What he told the customer often had nothing to do with what we'd tell him. And we and the customers really were better for it. Either the explanation was too detailed for the customer to follow it, or would alarm the customer and bring up a whole bunch of questions they really didn't need to be asking. That's wisdom, of a sort, at least.
But really, it's way more important to get along and be happy than to prove I'm right about something that doesn't matter. (I still say it, but refrain from proving it.)
Wife was having trouble with a financials spreadsheet from work, and asked me to help out. I took a look, and although I didn't know the actual content, it was clear to me what the kind of error must be, and how to correctly design a spreadsheet so that such errors are easily identifiable.
She said she didn't know that the incoming data might be problematic; I replied that one must always treat all inputs as untrusted. She said that XYZ gave it to her; I said be defensive against bad data even if I give it to you.
Anyway... the whole thing turned into a conflict, when I could have just said "I'm glad I could help you this time".
Well, they could if she thought of it like that.
Well, that's the theory anyway.
My wife now frequently turns to me when she hears "facts", I've become a sort of a content filter for facts and trivia; not to mention an encyclopaedia too. I've still got to teach her a true understanding of the universe and our solar system, but I learnt all that by being a sci-fi nerd from when my dad showed me Star Wars at like 3. I've literally got almost two decades on her on that front.
What it has lead to is that I will often cede the point for the time being, I will then look up the relevant literature and either bring it up the next time I'm with the person or send them the link. I try to do this even if I'm wrong.
I'm sure it doesn't help me come off as sociable, but I like to contribute to the spread of fact-based discussion which we have so little of these days.
Boom! The jackals were on him in an instant, tearing away at any and all weak spots. It was pretty funny.
So, yeah, I've been guilty of this myself, but lately I've been trying to pay more attention to what people are saying and why. The Dreamweaver dude had plausible reason for his preference. But every time he mentioned something he liked about it, two or three people jumped in to explain how he could do that with TextMate or Vim or whatever.
While I think people were mostly trying to be helpful, a good part of this had to be the opportunity to show off specialized knowledge of this or that tool.
It's why trolling is one of the best ways to get help.
Don't ever ask how to do something; assert that something can't be done.
You'll get a flood of people wanting to show off and prove you wrong.
(Someone one has written about this behavior, and has an Internet law or rule named after him regarding this, but I can't recall who. I'm counting on everyone here to jump in and show off their knowledge by providing the name. :) )
Oh, and I assert that the quote can't be found.
It's not a named law, but this quote pops up on reddit from time to time.
I have to admit that I recognize all of the points he makes, but I recognize them because I have become aware of them. Some I had already remedied subconsciously, long before I became aware of them; others required some effort to change. I don't doubt it is exactly the same for other geeks.
One of the main things this brought me is the guideline: don't obsess over perceived differences between you and others, because they are smaller than you think.
For instance, (awkward) silences are normal things that occur in many conversations. After forcing myself to pay attention to people's faces and body language, the first thing that struck me is how little 'regular' people actually seem to be doing that. They look away and fiddle with their papers all the time.
Probably the best example is the stereotypical geek's inability to read facial expressions. Some geeks -- like me, and, it sounds like, you -- teach themselves how to do it, but this is still a trait which comes more naturally to most people. This, combined with the geek's active "inner world", causes awkward conversations and social behavior.
Above average numeracy and a tendency to mentally model problems and situations visually are a couple of other indicators, as well as tendencies towards emotional irregularities.
While you might be able to act as though the differences between you and others is not great, the fact is, their brain probably doesn't work very much like yours does.
I knew someone for a while that was working on his thesis in psychology; according to him, the field of psychology had a certain reluctance to measure various disorders in degrees. Although psychologists might say, "this person is autistic, and can function somewhat in society", and, "this other person is autistic and cannot function in society", they're reluctant to say, "this person is only a little autistic". (This was the subject of his thesis.)
Based on what I've read in the DSM and publications like SciAm:Mind, as well as what I've observed of people, I'd tend to agree with him, and I'd say that it's a pretty safe bet that the majority of stereotypical geeks are "a little autistic".
I've always wondered if it comes naturally to most people or whether they just learned it at a younger age while we were busy learning other things.
I can't find any references to it online in the thirty seconds or so I'm willing to spend on it, but I did find:
...which says that babies start learning facial expressions at 6 months of age.
Autism is different though; it's not just a lack of ability, but a lack of interest. I distinctly remember reading that, for example, during a movie where the scene is primarily depicting two people talking, a "normal" person will watch the faces of the actors, while the "autistic" subject would tend to focus on the light switch in the background. I doubt this is universal, and the article may have even been about one person in particular, but at this point correlations between autism and difficulty with interpersonal emotional interpretation are accepted as generally true.
...I think this has an interesting, though probably coincidental, consequence: sci-fi shows and movies tend to focus much more heavily on objects and technology than faces and acting.
A quick summary might be: "When talking, geeks need to understand that the listener doesn't know anything and doesn't want to learn, doesn't care whether what you say makes sense or is accurate, isn't trying to understand, doesn't even want the answer to the question they asked but rather an answer to the question they were thinking of, and is often simply waiting for you to shut up so they can speak. Also, everyone else has a massive inferiority complex so stop suggesting things to improve their lives as they'll take it as a belittling insult and somehow that's now your problem."
People with an IQ of 130 ("Very superior intelligence") are two standard deviations from people with an IQ of 100.
A normal person will have to change basic communication skills to be found engaging by a feeble-minded person.
Likewise, an intelligent person will need to accommodate a normal person.
The term condescension has come to have a pejorative connotation but is actually fitting in this context.
 Compare Webster's 1828 Dictionary:
condescension, n. Voluntary descent from rank, dignity or just claims; relinquishment of strict right; submission to inferiors in granting requests or performing acts which strict justice does not require. Hence, courtesy.
- “It forbids pride and commands humility, modesty and condescension to others.”
- “Raphael, amidst his tenderness, shows such a dignity and condescension in all his behavior, as are suitable to a superior nature.”
With Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 11th Edition:
1. act or instance of condescending
2. a patronizing manner or behavior
I do all of the context switching, or condescending, up or down because I long ago realized it was the most effective way to the job done. Most people can't or just suck at it.
End result? It's exhausting,I get incredibly sick of talking to people and start to feel incredibly alienated. It's like I have to speak a hundred different dialects of English to get through the day.
The other interesting thing I found is that if I deal with somebody whom I don't need to switch too much, I find it relaxing and refreshing in some sense. But sadly it doesn't happen very often.
So the pejorative connotation of condescension fits in this context, the context of people thinking they have to adapt because their interlocutor is dumber than they are, when in fact it is they that lacks the social intelligence that would make adaptation natural.
Think uncomplaining, long-suffering, enduring, tolerant...
Myers Brigg illustrates "self-validation" and is dangerous when used to define careers ~ http://www.skepdic.com/myersb.html
Similarly, take Feynman; probably smarter than most of us. Note how he analysed and described many everyday phenomena in ways that seem very interesting, and not at all out of intellectual reach, and didn't seem to be bored doing so.
In fact, I'd rather say that an excess of intelligence should be no limit to how fascinating one is to the listener. The most interesting conversations often involve talking about the other person and sharing life experiences; but the most visceral of those experiences don't seem to have any obvious connection to intelligence. If anything, intelligence will enhance one's descriptive abilities.
And if I move to the point.
I wholeheartedly agree with your summary. But there is one more point about "geeks don't have social skills" myth I would like to address. Myself being a very extrovert person, I have never had problems in mingling with people. But while wearing an engineer hat, I constantly get patronized by people who SHOULD listen to me for their own good. Yet, due to their willful ignorance and intellectual laziness, I get to clear the mess in the end. And it doesn't really matter how I try to present it. If I explain on simple terms - they don't believe me, but when I try to elaborate they just shut down.
But! They do like listening to themselves, talking of lies. Yes Sir! They do!
People chat for information exchange and entertainment. To geeks, these are the same. To many people, they are not.
But if you're going over phone, there is some expectation of real-time availability - nobody really likes voice mail. Phone calls have a dreadful suddenness to them. Thank goodness we're moving past the days when almost everything had to be done by cold-calling a number.
IM and texting can be even worse in some ways as the expectations of timeliness are fluid so communication may get frustrating when one person is moving way faster than the other, but I think they actually work really well when used for short-term "business update" types of communication: "I will meet you at 5pm." "Do you have a link for <x>?" "We changed our plans for the meeting." etc.
I have a strong aversion to intruding on someone else's consciousness -- breaking their concentration, or interrupting a task in progress with non-critical communication. Over the phone, I have no way to see what you're doing, so I cannot determine the degree to which I am intruding in your intellectual space. Hence I view the phone as an inherently high priority medium and use it sparingly. I will only call you if I have something so important to say that I would have been willing to interrupt whatever you might be doing. And I will be brief.
This behavior is forced on me by my notions of courtesy. But I am aware that it sends all kinds of incorrect signals to my mother . . .
That is, as soon as you get an idea you immediately begin plotting to share it with everyone, and you either blurt it out or you stop listening until you get a chance to talk (thereby causing you to say things that don't seem to fit in the conversation or make it seem like you aren't keeping up)
Not yielding the floor when appropriate is definitely a problem too, but doesn't always result in awkward silences.
Maybe the main differentiating factor between geeks and non-geeks (as the author calls them) is ability to deal with silence. Most geeks I get along with best tend to listen with their eyes and speak with their hands.
Pretend like you're a noob learning netiquette.
It's only perceived as rude when it comes across as rude. For example, if you interrupt someone mid-sentence to correct something insignificant, then that's rude.
Waiting for the person to finish talking and then immediately correcting something they said earlier gives the other person the impression that you weren't listening to what they were saying. There are better ways of dealing with this in conversation. One of them is simply to ignore irrelevant inaccuracies.
Calling it "altruistic behaviour to educate" is also disingenuous. I've met many geeks who thrive on expounding minutiae about irrelevant or insignificant topics at the most inappropriate moments, all for the sake of recognition. It's the same as when jocks try to impress others by being macho. Obviously not all geeks are like that, but they definitely exist. My dad is geek who is like this but for him it's also about self-affirmation.
Finally, I often see articles on the net trying to explain "geeky" social interaction, but I rarely read articles specifically targeted at people with these tendencies describing how to improve their social skills. That's because, IMO, people who have these skills recognize that intelligence has little to do with it.
please reply to my comment if you have any suggestions for improving this article. thanks!
Anyhow, I am certainly a phone-phobic geek. When I was a young child, I was terrified of talking on the phone. I was too geeky to understand the social aspects of a phone call, but I was smart enough to know I didn't understand most of what happened during a phone conversation. When my parents called somebody to ask a question or invite them somewhere, it would take fifteen minutes. Typically, I had one goal in mind, such as asking my friend Jon if he wanted to play. That was all I understood, but I also understood a phone conversation was supposed to be more complicated than that, and that I had to be polite to whoever answered the phone. I had terrible performance anxiety.
Strangely, I still have an aversion to making phone calls to people I don't know well. Even simple, low-risk, impersonal tasks like calling to ask a restaurant's hours or calling the dentist to make an appointment produce a significant amount of anxiety. The more often I talk to someone on the phone, the more the anxiety decreases, though. Talking on the phone to my family and close friends generates no anxiety.
Most geeks have been "weird" their entire lives. From kindergarten on, they didn't quite fit in with the other kids. The teachers actively made their social lives worse by setting them up as an object of scorn: The kid to hate because they get the answers right while the teacher acts like a) you, too, could get the answer right if only you studied more (never mind that is not why the geek kid knew the answer) and b) see, this kid is proof I am a wonderful teacher and your failures are on your own head for being lazy (never mind that she or he isn't responsible for the geek kid's stellar performance either).
They have had scorn heaped upon them until even the ones who started out as extroverts have probably become gun-shy. The vast majority of people around them were also inculcated in this sick, twisted social system so even when you are in your 40's, you run into this "5-year-olds-on-the-playground"-style bullshit harassment and get abused by it no matter how hard you try to "behave" the way other people try to dictate you "should".
Someday, after you have twisted yourself all out of shape trying to do what other people claim would make you "socially acceptable", you eventually figure out that just knowing more than other people or just thinking differently about problems is inherently verboten and there is no social disguise that will make you "acceptable" to most people. It doesn't matter one iota that you are sharing information out of genuine enthusiasm for a topic or out of a genuine desire to make the lives of other people better, you will still be treated like an egomaniac, a threat, a bitch/bastard...etc.
So maybe if the more "normal" folks who think "social skills" are vastly more important than "hard"/technical skills would exercise some genuine compassion, refrain from being too quick to judge and other types of social wisdom that they like to brag they have more of than the "geeks", they would find that geeks aren't so dreadful after all. They can be coaxed out of their shells if you don't start off by automatically labeling them and being openly hostile. And if you don't hate them on sight for simply existing and are kind and patient with their foibles, they may not need to act like know-it-alls in self-defense, which is probably the only ego defense they had in many ugly social situations.
Of course many of these behaviors are not bad so much as different, but my "best" categories are:
* Most of the time I actively analyze conversations for signs that people are talking past each other, so I usually catch myself if I'm using jargon without adequate explanation. (Of course this is fed by the commitment to accuracy and desire to educate, though.)
* I don't think I often evangelize technology, but that's mostly because I discovered some time ago that if I recommend it I'm going to end up supporting it.
Thing I'd most like to improve on in myself is struggling with turn taking in conversation. Like many of these categories, I can behave more normally, but it's amazing to me how much effort and attention this one requires.
Most cognitive dissonance for me is the whole issue of caring about the "how" more than other people do. I think I appropriately focus on what and why when making decisions, and on one level I know that most people do not in fact care about the how. But on another level I can't quite believe that (e.g.) anyone who watches American football wouldn't want to know how they make the yellow first down line show up.
It's a report from a speech therapist who attended a Science-Fiction convention on the way that fannish speech is different to "normal" speech.
A special-needs teacher at my son’s school has suggested that he get training in what’s called “social pragmatics”; this is an actual subfield of speech-language pathology that focuses on the social use of language as distinct from pronounciation, syntax, etc. We’re not convinced that he needs to spend 45 minutes a week focused on this subject, but other people might be interested in knowing that this kind of training exists.
Another annoying geek habit is assuming everyone else is a drooling imbecile.
Looking away for a while and suddenly looking back with their mouth open slightly can also be an indicator. If they have their mouths closed tightly, they're deciding whether to interject, so you might want to check a sentence or two later to see if they've made up their minds.
And it's cues, not queues :-)
Also, consider where in a conversation you are- you should be taking shorter turns when you are just beginning to talk to someone. If a person asks you "How are you doing" or "What have you been up to lately?" you should give them a quick summary and then ask them the same question. This is assuming that it's a social situation where you expect a conversation- don't return the question if your boss asks you what you've been doing, and don't answer at length if the question is just a social nicety. The cashier in the grocery store doesn't want a detailed answer to "How are you today?", you should just say "I'm fine, how are you?" Hope that makes sense.
some_twitter_person: I went to the park tday.
some_twitter_person: In the last tweet, I meant "today" and not "tday."
- blind to the relative importance of issues
These are also characteristics of children. I note them in myself. I think every human being has these characteristics to some extent, but they are especially prevalent in geeks/nerds.
As a result, if you can overcome them enough, and you have some technical competence, you can be absurdly successful.
If you get your point across by using terms no one understands, you're not getting your point across. It's not efficient at all, since you'll have to explain yourself further. But we all do this, not just "geeks". We're inferentially distance from each other. Who doesn't compress their understand of the world into their own specialist jargon?
A good geek might recognize this and seek to understand various types of complex systems and seek the type of precision and completeness necessary to model and work with that kind of system...a party is nothing more than a complex system that has a complex and complete set of rules that have to be adhered to with high precision in order to get invited to another party.
To play on this example, a geek might realize that he is failing in social interactions. Thus she/he might look at socialization as a complex system akin to a technical field and look to operate successfully at socialization by understanding it in detail. For example, learning how to take turns in a conversation, how to participate in small talk or tell an entertaining story to somebody from a different, non-technical background. They'll learn precision in using pop-culture references and completeness regarding the social situations to use them in. They'll learn about the social graphs of the people in the party, and when and how to reference other people ("don't talk mean about Suzy to Greg, they broke up, but he still digs her").
In programming a geek may test their knowledge by writing a program and seeing if it works "correctly". In electrical engineering they may build some useful gadget. If a geek is trying to "hack" socialization, they might test their knowledge by navigating a party without causing uncomfortable silences in conversations they participate in.
A party thus can be thought of as a particular kind of social "application" like a software application on a computer. Given time a geek might learn several different kinds of "social applications" like "giving a toast at a wedding", "having a 1-on-1 conversation with a cute girl", "going on a date", "selling software" etc.
one thing i'd point out that tends to be forgotten is that these "traits" are merely results of having not practiced (unless of course there is a condition such as OCD, autism, etc preventing development of certain social norms.)
Someone who does not practice verbal communication will suck at it. Someone who does not practice understanding others' interests will suck at it. Put these together and they will suck at teaching. Someone who doesn't practicing noticing others' clothes will not notice their own clothes.
"geek" is a choice, not a condition.
There are likely as many who do just as well and have no shortage of basic social skills. One just doesn't notice the awkward silences so there's nothing to write broad generalizing blog posts about.
I hope the author is wrong about that, or, alternately, that my understanding of what exactly is meant by "geek" is a bit off.
Did anyone else file that as 'less than $250' in their brains?
Whereas "I read about 5 books a week" sounds more like "I count how many books I read so that I can one-up anyone who thinks they are as smart as I am."
A non-geek who reads 5 books a week might admit the exact figure if probed, but would be more likely to look slightly embarrassed, to imply "yes I know that makes me odd" and "don't dislike me; I'm not trying to seem superior but you asked."
I definitely suck at turn taking, but I love phone calls. I'd much rather talk than email/SMS/IM/whatever. In my mind those have even fewer social cues.
At least that's what I used to think when face o face conversations were still a big problem for me, but phone conversations felt easier.
It seems I have become much less of a geek over the years.
Don't have any problems with normal conversations and phone calls though.
I do think it's unprofessional to say things that could offend people, because its inconsiderate. But emoticons? Loosen up, I say.