05 Mar The Art of Conversation
Enter any plane, train, bus, waiting room or café these days and it’s surprising how many people have their eyes downward staring intently into smart phone screens. With modern digital devices and social media we’re all somehow able to hide in plain sight now – in our very own cocoon of solitude, detached from the whizzing world.
Maybe current thinking has us believe that if we surround ourselves with every possible electronic device, we shall never be alone. Sure, TV entertains at night; we have laptops and ipads to chat with our Facebook friends – and our smartphones perch next to us on the couch like a trusted, loyal friend. According to clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, “we are getting used to a new way of being alone together.”
For most of human history, face-to-face communication has always been the core of our interaction. Things have certainly changed as we text, email, blog, and ‘friend’ each other on social networks. In this new age of electronic media, we’re chatting with each other less than ever and losing one of life’s singular pleasures: a relaxed, civilized exchange of views – the art of conversation.
Even Pope Francis in his annual message for the church’s World Communications Day said, “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.”
It’s a bit of a worry really. Ever present and all-pervasive, digital devices have hijacked our lives – and not just when we are awake. Even at night the flashing red light or demanding ‘ding’ of a new message is creating sleep and mood problems for many.
There’s even a new sleep disorder: sleep texting! Loosely defined as reading and replying to text messages while asleep, sleep texting has become an extra and growing concern for doctors struggling with a sleep-deprived planet.
In good old fashioned face to face conversation up to 85% of the communication is actually non-verbal. Here’s where a smile, frown, nonchalant shrug or even just tone of voice adds so much more meaning to mere words. With this in mind, it’s no wonder short written messages such as texts are so frequently misunderstood and even create a little havoc from time to time.
But all is not lost. Although the art of conversation could be in trouble in these increasingly digitized times, it can be saved at ground level.
Given that most of us average about 16,000 spoken words per day – I reckon we’re off to great start. With phone now doused in pocket, it may then just be a matter of adding a few extra words to create a flicker of light banter – when next ordering a coffee, for example.
In many cases, this may well spark a kindle of conversation with a radiant blaze of enlightened discourse and raillery to follow.
And as we march forward collectively to raise the profile and prevalence of riveting conversation all around us, let’s delight in the knowledge that the spoken word remains completely free, accessible and incredibly, refreshingly human.