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See the whites of their eyes
On the power of eye contact, our co-evolution with dogs, and the dangers of watching too many YouTube videos
Whatever the quality of a person's eyesight may be, one of the things they can be sure of seeing from the greatest distance is another person's gaze. The "whites of our eyes" make it possible to see where others are looking from 30 feet away -- even when there would be no way most of us could read a letter of the same size at the same distance.
■ It's not just a thing we share with other people; being able to communicate with our eyes alone helps humans and dogs to coexist. The significance of gaze says a great deal about our evolution as social creatures. We not only depend upon the explicit things that others say to us; we rely on the most basic signals about what has others' attention to interpret what should be important to us, too.
■ Where we point our eyes matters, and so does where we fix our metaphorical gaze. Communication tools that have done a great deal to inform us -- especially those based in video -- offer an unstoppable and overwhelming supply of hints about the things that other people want us to think are important.
■ The talking heads of television always give us their eye contact -- and with it, a false sense of security that we are sharing our attention with what's important. But so do the people who appear on YouTube videos and Snapchat channels. Over and over, anyone can choose to be bombarded by messages that are packed with anthropological persuasion.
■ Knowing and understanding the ways our animal instincts are deliberately triggered by others is vital stuff. We haven't had the tools long enough to develop any useful evolutionary defenses against them. And in a time when lots of events are capable of provoking any of us to action, the least we can do is become aware that our brains are often primed to accept signals we don't even realize are being sent.