The death of face to face conversation
Today I read an article headed by the title, “Conversation is a dying art.” And the first thing I thought on reading that title was… “yeah right, that’s impossible, we’re more connected than ever today”. But after reading the article itself, I had to stop and reflect a bit more on what it said. I tweeted it and started to write this post. And truth be said, I have not yet talked face to face with anybody about it… so maybe the title is right after all!
I will highlight here some of the things the article claims. It is based on a combination of the results of a study by Sherry Turkle, professor at the MIT, and the opinions of Isabel F. Lantigua, regular writer for the paper, on the basis of a compilation of several books and studies on the subject:
“Technology has made us shy away from face to face conversation” and this has extremely negative consequences, because “conversation is the basis of democracy and business, it supports empathy and is essential for friendship, love, learning and productivity”. Without it, claims the expert, “we lose that which makes us different from all other species, we lose our humanity”.
“We expect more from technology and less from the other” and “we have sacrificed conversation for mere connectivity“. But behind this there is a painful reality: “the feeling that nobody is listening to us”.
“A new being is emerging, a multitasking, hyperconnected entity, which goes by the definition of “I share, therefore I am“, but a being that, paradoxically, feels more alone. “We have gone from being in a community to having the feeling of being in a community. Have we also gone from empathy to a sense of empathy? From friendship to a sense of friendship? We should pay attention to this.”
What can we do?
Fortunately, the article ends by giving us some tips on how we can ensure that face to face conversations, and all that they afford us, do not die out:
- Do not go everywhere with an electronic device in your hand.
- Slow down, learn to listen to your inner voice. Take your time, make time to reflect.
- Create sacred spaces for conversation.
- Talk to people you don’t agree with. Our prejudices affect both our conversations and our distractions.
- Try to avoid thinking in dichotomies. The digital world is based on binary choices, but our thoughts cannot work in this way.
Maybe now you should talk to someone in the office instead of sending emails, or meet a friend for coffee instead of asking how he/she is via Facebook, or visit family rather than settling for some sort of interaction on Whatsapp…
I understand the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s world, the emergence of robots and the progress of artificial intelligence. But perhaps there is something more we can do to keep adding value (and we have a lot to add) and to receive value from others via work teams, in the family, and in our personal relationships. And that something may well be as easy or as difficult as simply talking face to face.
Quality conversations are the key to many things, both conversations with ourselves and face to face conversations with others. What do you think? Maybe your day and mine will be just that little bit different today, a little bit more “humane”… or perhaps it won’t and we will continue to let ourselves be ruled by habit… but at least simply thinking about it is a good start.