In transactional analytic terms, the stroke is the fundamental currency of human interaction. It’s a kind of meta message that subsists within interactions and which performs an act of acknowledgement, thus producing in participants a “stroke.” Transactional analysis views communication as a fundamental means by which individuals build up their sense of ontological security. Membership in the society of man in general, and recognition by a group in particular, provides the individual with a sense of well-being that grounds his or her identity in a web of belonging. And this web, according to the tenets of transactional analysis, is so important that communication is its vehicle.

To play on marshall mcluhan, one might attempt to differentiate between hot strokes and cold stokes. Using his distinction between hot and cold media, one would argue that a hot stroke has a high degree of participatory content; a cold one, a low degree. Hot strokes would obtain in co-present situations and vary in temperature depending on the intensity of activity (and spontaneity) measurable in the exchanges and interactions among participants. Cold strokes, on the other hand, would be those abstracted or formalized into language itself. Utterances, even those circulated separately from their utterers—as emails, text messages, etc.—create disembodied presence. The cold stroke then would be obtained from the presencing that pushes through language and symbolic (say, visual) systems, but is cold for its lack of real attention giving. Cold strokes belong to the sedimentation of human presence and activity in communicative systems (verbal, symbolic). Cold strokes provide that hint of generic presence; you’re somehow included without being spoken to. These kinds of strokes exist in language itself as a residue, if you will, of the stroke originally embedded in first person discourse. Indirect discourse provides an embedded form of recognition and belonging.

We mine the stock of cultural images and statements that surrounds us for cold strokes. Even the cold touch beats none at all. Our media culture has created a social autism; a vision of belonging that doesn’t look back.

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