The lost craft of conversation


Comments on listening and speaking in the flesh (or on the phone)…

conversation in cuba

First post. Bit nervous. To cure nerves I will start with a quote to set the tone and theme.

“There is no greater mood enhancer than conversation with another person. It’s a holiday from yourself, richer and more dynamic than hearing a good song, reading a funny story, or blasting monsters to pixel smithereens on your computer” – Catherine Blyth, author of The Art Of Conversation.

Funny to imagine it, however sometimes I notice people either ask a bunch of questions in a row (forgetting to make statements) or make a bunch of statements in a row (forgetting to ask questions), or keep talking till breath runs out. This is not conversation. It is as dynamic as a pull-string-doll. I am probably one of these people at times.

Real dialogue between two or more people is more intriguing than one-way outward expressions from one person. Into context using tennis as an example: What is more interesting? a) Watching someone serve a ball without a receiver, or b) A skilful rally between two adept players. I assume most people choose the latter. Online examples of short rallies between two or more players can be found in forums, blog comments, facebook wall posts, or an email thread between two people. However you don’t really see examples of skilful dialogue between two people in the online world – if you do then it is in script format (which is not easy to digest). Generally if you want to experience this you watch a movie, listen to a radio show with 2+ hosts, or hang out with two good friends and listen to their conversation. Or obviously have a conversation in the flesh or on the phone.

I notice more connections between people are ending or breaking more often and the connections between people are looser than ever – especially in younger generations. I notice more disjointed levels of expectations between people and preconceptions that mislead one person to believe the connection with a significant other is something that it is not. These are common themes when breaking up or ending a connection, however I think the ‘end’ or ‘break’ can be polarised, exacerbated or expedited when social media tools are involved. Is there an antidote? Do we need one?

We trust recommendations and word of mouth more than anything else, including people we don’t know [strangers]. As pointed out a few weeks ago by Jonathan Carson, President of Online, International, for Nielsen Research – “The explosion in Consumer Generated Media over the last couple of years means consumers’ reliance on word of mouth in the decision-making process, either from people they know or online consumers they don’t, has increased”.

Not ground-breaking news for most technologists and online freaks, however it is helpful to get the facts direct from a reputable researcher – who I respect. It is an arduous task to set up and produce this kind of solid information. The point is, this makes me curious to probe and understand what is happening to people’s behaviour and conversations in the flesh (as a direct affect of this change in online activity).

“The digital age has changed the ways that we share our most important opinions and innermost secrets. The latter are usually reserved for our closest of acquaintances, but we don’t necessarily use the most personal approach to broach these delicate details.”-Josh Spear

Below you can see Ji Lee’s 10 Levels of Intimacy in Today’s Communication. It is both an interesting and absurd display of the redefinition and possible redistribution of how we continue on with our most cherished connections.

Ji Lee’s 10 Levels of Intimacy in Today’s Communication
Ji Lee’s 10 Levels of Intimacy in Today’s Communication
Lost Art of Conversation, Art Gallery of NSW, Sept08

Lost Art of Conversation, Art Gallery of NSW, Sept08

Speaking volumes on this topic is the installation on The Lost Art of Conversation – Art Gallery of NSW in September 2008. Jessie Smith investigated and commented “We are now able to do so many things from the comfort of our computer screen, that the majority of us now live in a genuine virtual reality. A genuine virtual reality that is so “Jetsons” like, that we can go bowling in our living rooms and our cars can give us driving directions. Basically this installation invited you to book a 45 minute chin wagging session in a public box with writer, artist, film maker, uni lecturer, magazine editor and social anthropologist Ross Gibson, as he attempted to revive the ‘lost art of the conversation’ and find some common ground with visitors.”

On the subject of social media, word of mouth and real life conversations, I thought of Cuba where there is no advertising other than political propaganda. One of the last places with a high-density of living with no consumer based advertising. The Internet is not available to everyone that lives there and therefore in order to find stuff, the most locals need to speak to each other to work out what, where, when, how, why etc, for almost everything. The result is a culture based on listening and speaking in the flesh. The craft of conversation is alive and well in this part of the world. No wonder everyone’s dancing in Cuba.

What do you think?

Do you notice less engagement in real life conversation? Do you notice connections breaking more often? Are looser connections better? On social media: Does it change the way we converse? Does it teach us quality or quantity? Does it make you unappreciative of real life bonds? Have your real life conversations changed as a result of it? Do you want to book a chin wagging session time in a conversation box? Do you need to go to Cuba?

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2 Comments

Filed under Connections, Conversations, Cuba, Exhibition, Original Craft, Point Of View, Social Media, Social Responsibility, Virtual Reality

2 responses to “The lost craft of conversation

  1. Caroline Hoestmaelingen

    Speaking for speaking’s sake: a common habit we share (most people i have met, myself included) is asking questions we already know the answers to, from day to day dilemmas to serious life issues. Problem is, we don’t take the time to get the answer from ourselves (brain work/soul work) because we would rather live “out there” than inside ourselves – meditation can help with this.

  2. Matt Hermans

    I discovered something a few years ago, after buying a TabletPC for my work, that although I can touch type quickly, hand writing using the Tablet allowed much more thought to go into whatever I was communicating. I felt like I was ‘writing’ an E-mail, not ‘typing’ one. It was a different connection to my words than typing. Since then I’ve been thinking differently about computer-based communication.

    I’m in front of the computer more than not, so a lot of my communication is based around digital text. Since discovering hand writing on the Tablet PC I’ve found that using digital means of communication in an analog way brings back a lot of warmth and weight to our words (something that has gone missing from the former) I’ve become more poetic in my digital communication since that discovery and I believe it’s a very interesting perspective shift for me. Taking more time (either because I write slower than I type, or otherwise) to communicate allows more thought and weight to my words. This is something unique to text-based communication and the fact that we can communicate easily/instantly with people in this way through SMS, Facebook, Twitter and E-Mail gives me hope that digital communication has the means to carry our real message.

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