The art of getting attention
As a follow-up to his smash-hit 2006 book "The Power of Pouting," rural sociologist Dr. Herman Snordpickel, Ph.D., recently published his latest study, "The Art of Getting Attention: A Rural Perspective."
"I am not interested in the small-fry attention-getting devices like showing up late for dinner or making your spouse wait a half-an-hour in the car," Snordpickel said in a recent interview. "I am after the biggies -- where people seek the attention of the entire community."
The need for attention varies amongst rural residents, Snordpickel found. Some are happy to live in quiet anonymity, while others can't survive a week if their name isn't in the local paper.
Methods for getting attention vary. However, as Snordpickel moved from community to community, he discerned unmistakable patterns.
"Every town has somebody who gets attention by knowing all the disaster gossip," Snordpickel claims. "That person usually has a police-band scanner and knows how to use it effectively. "
Heart attack? Car accident? Or is it just somebody at the nursing home needing transport? The person who knows first can really score attention points, Snordpickel claims.
With the increased informality in area church services, "prayer concern" lists have become a good way to get attention. However, Snordpickel urges people to be careful.
"Yes, some concerns are legitimate, but if you start listing infected bunions or a cousin in Kentucky with kidney stones, you risk causing resentment," he said, adding that you don't want to be to blame for the service stretching into the first quarter of the Vikings game.
"And if your nephew in New York is having major surgery, you darn well better specify exactly what the surgery is about or they're just going to assume it is a sex change," Snorkpickel cautioned.
Snordpickel is also suspicious that Caring Bridge isn't all it is cracked up to be.
"Oh, it is a great comfort for the families of those who are gravely ill," Snordpickel conceded. "However, some of these people who post over and over that they are on their knees at this very moment seem to care more about showing off their piety than anything."
Research for his project was difficult. "People are reluctant to question out loud the motives of those who seem so nice on the surface but who really are interested in getting attention," Snordpickel lamented.
But once Snordpickel donned a pair of Oshkosh overalls and gained the trust of the locals, he was overwhelmed by an avalanche of data.
"Prayer chains were a biggie," Snordpickel said. "At first, nobody would say a word."
As his research progressed, however, resentments came out. "One retired schoolteacher snorted that they were nothing more than 'sanctified gossip,'" Snordpickel said with a shake of his head.
"Another crusty old bachelor complained that he had three heart attacks and one stroke but never got a prayer chain, while a popular high school football player with strep throat sent the town into a tizzy of solemn prayer-chain related phone calls," Snordpickel said.
"There's some real inequalities there," Snordpickel said, although he quickly added that there is more research to do.
How best to get attention in the small town without ruining your life?
"I would suggest placing a thank you note in the local paper," Snordpickel said. "Say that you really appreciate everybody's concern over the past few difficult weeks."
Most importantly, Snordpickel added, don't say why the past few weeks were difficult. "Just leave 'em hanging," he suggested. "Pretty soon the whole town will wonder what's wrong."
"When somebody calls wondering what's up," Snordpickel said, "just break into tears and say you can't stand talking about it, it is just too hard."
Facebook has added another new twist to the attention-getting game.
Again, Snordpickel advocates posting incomplete messages of despair, such as "I can't believe this is happening to me!" or, "Why are some people so nasty?"
"These messages will bring a sympathetic response from a few friends, and will make absolutely everybody desperately curious," Snordpickel concluded.
What more could you want?
I asked Snordpickel if he had any parting words of wisdom after his three years of research on getting attention.
"Yes," he said with a wink. "If you're really, really desperate for attention, there's one method that beats all others."
What's that, I asked?
"Get yourself a column in the local paper."