Your Body And The Internet: How Many People Have You Talked To Today?

Functional dysphonia is a rare condition in which people become unable to talk but we don’t exactly know why. We can’t find anything mechanically wrong with their sound-making parts, and if you startle or tickle them, they still shriek or laugh. You shouldn’t go out of your way to tickle these people, but, just, that’s what would happen. When they try to speak, though: silence. Sometimes whispers. Nothing is identifiably wrong with the language parts of their brains, either. They can write and interact nonverbally without a problem.
So it's a diagnosis that's felt to be related to anxiety and "psychosomatic factors," which is what we say to mean “I don’t know - your brain is affecting your body somehow - I don’t know, it’s weird. Ahh, I wish I could help you. Anti-depressants?”
A new study from the journal Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery says that people with functional dysphonia have increased rates of perfectionism.  That makes sense, since both are probably rooted in anxiety. It suggests that there's an element, albeit subconscious, of thinking it'd be better not to talk at all than to risk saying something wrong.
If you don't talk, you can't misspeak. You’d probably offend fewer people, too, as long as you’re cordial with your winks, nods, and curtseys, and assuming you don’t do weird stuff like constantly lick your lips. You might even come off as elegant and intriguing. Maybe it wouldn’t be completely terrible? But, on a voluntary basis, how long do you think you could actually go without talking?
I tried it one time when I was a kid, and I lasted fifteen months, but I was very focused.

Realistically, for a typical modern adult, between email and text you could feasibly go a pretty long time without missing your voice too badly. Even though I’m normal now, I’ll find myself going whole days without talk-talking to more than one or two people. Sometimes it’ll be getting dark outside when I realize I’ve not opened my mouth all day, except to gape and eat and gape. According to Gmail, though, I'll have sent 17 emails and had 8 chats and also a flurry of texts - still managing to interact with and offend plenty of people voicelessly.
Fifteen years ago, that wasn’t nearly as possible. If someone did a study on this I bet they’d find that most of us, despite being in touch with more people, use our voices way less than we did back then. And is there reason to believe technology won’t continue to push us in the same direction?
The muscles of your larynx and chest wall – the muscles you use to speak – are just like any other in that they get small and weak and turn into fat if you don’t use them. Your voice gets softer and shakier and less melodic if you don’t talk. An exercise regimen for your larynx, something now reserved for vocalists and auctioneers, may soon be within the realm of consideration for fitness buffs and, eventually, normal people.
But, why? Why keep your voice up if you don’t need it? As long as you can still whisper a few small things once in a while (maybe “I love you” or “please call 911”), you should be fine, right?
Well, historically, vocal quality has played an important role in sex and mate selection. Women with sultry, high-pitched voices are more attractive to men, and men with deep, burly voices are more attractive to women. Voice is a polarizing symbol of virility and, as any quality that makes someone especially feminine or masculine, is innately attractive to the primitive part of your brain that wants to find a sexual partner with the highest odds of being fertile (women) and dominant/strong/protective (men). Studies have even show that women's voices are actually more attractive to men during the part of the menstrual cycle when conception is most likely. “Fertilize me.” It’s valuable biological intuition, and it’s accurate: voice attractiveness actually correlates to physical attractiveness as well, in the form of shoulder-to-waist ratio in men and waist-to-hip ratio in women.
Well, so you’ll be less sexually attractive, so what? You can make up for that with your awesome tweets. Maybe so, but consider the future of the species. If we stop factoring vocal quality into mate selection as an indicator of genetic fitness, then evolution will see the voicebox get smaller and smaller and the human voice get weaker and weaker and uglier and uglier and softer and softer until… until… [gasp, gargle]
Sure, there will still be “purebred” relic lineages like eunuchs who live in the mountains and take care of all the singing and podcasting, but the rest of us?

Silence, on the road to blissfully isolated blobs.
The plus side of all this? Well, functional dysphonia will be effectively cured, since sufferers will be basically indistinguishable from everyone else. Are you crippled by anxiety, or are you just very, very weak? I don’t even know. Text me - with your perfect, beautiful thumbs.

[image via]