We need to remember the benefits of face-to-face conversation. (Pic: iStock)
We need to remember the benefits of face-to-face conversation. (Pic: iStock)

We need to reclaim the art of conversation

LAST week, during the height of #libspill, my uncle, who was exchanging texts with me, suddenly rang.

He declared: "Text is killing the art of conversation. Let's talk."

He's right. Texting, Twitter, Messaging and other platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, have changed the nature of contemporary communications.

The convenience and speed with which we can send messages (including emojis and Bitmojis) means we converse more often, with those we choose to share with and at moments that suit us, about everything from the very personal and private to pop culture, and the political and very publicly.

For many years, texting and various social networking platforms - including Facebook - have been getting a bad rap. If they're not destroying language, romance, making everyone anti-social, facilitating bullying, sleep deprivation, causing infidelity, ruining families and communities, they're (as my uncle said), "killing conversation."

Should we be worried?

Well, yes; because of what face-to-face conversation signifies.

Whether it's young and older people with their eyes glued to screens in their hands while in restaurants, home, churches, funerals, crossing roads, driving or simply having a night out with friends, or Donald Trump and his so-called "Twitter diplomacy" the way we communicate with each other has irrevocably altered from being personal to increasingly impersonal.

Donald Trump’s tendency to conduct “diplomacy” via Twitter has been criticised. (Pic: Evan Vucci/AP)
Donald Trump’s tendency to conduct “diplomacy” via Twitter has been criticised. (Pic: Evan Vucci/AP)

Never mind the physical dangers messaging (especially in public spaces) can pose, it's the emotional and psychological ones that our preference for this mode that also need to be considered.

According to Dr Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation, because we're constantly distracted and entertained by our digital devices, we're affecting our ability to process deep feelings and emotionally connect with one another.

Face-to-face conversations are among "the most human thing we do." Rather than nurturing these, we turn to our devices, interrupting and pausing real-world interactions with each other to respond to digital ones.

Children are starting to beg parents to put their devices down and simply talk to them - and vice-a-versa.

Turkle adds: "We need to reclaim face-to-face conversation. Never have we needed to talk to each other and understand each other more."

She's not saying give up social media, but integrate it into a balanced interactive conversation diet.

Nicholas Carr, author of The Glass Cage: How Computers are Changing Us, reminds us that through real-life socialising, we learn from people and the world around us. He also emphasises the importance of being alone with our thoughts.

We rarely give ourselves the opportunity anymore. We're too attached to our devices and the social networks they allow us to continuously access.

British comedian, Michael McIntyre, imagined what it would have been like to leave the house before mobile phones, but with the expectation we'd still be able to access what we do now.

Comedian Michael McIntyre has pilloried the amount of information we like to have at our fingertips. (Pic: Supplied)
Comedian Michael McIntyre has pilloried the amount of information we like to have at our fingertips. (Pic: Supplied)

He describes loading the boot of the car with a set of encyclopedias, novels, our music collections, photo albums, maps, newspapers, board games and so on.

Nowadays, all this and more fits into our hand and is normal.

But while we wouldn't we open a book and commence reading in the middle of a conversation with someone, we don't hesitate to turn to our digital devices no matter who we're with or how rude we seem.

Some call this FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Turkle describes it as a "radical code of individualism". It's so radical, she states, "that we deny the power of all communal affiliations (online) even as we participate in them."

In other words, though we know messaging etc isn't improving/helping community and friendship, we pretend we're in control and can switch off when we want.

It's a conflictual relationship and while we worry about long-term effects, it's one we're not prepared to surrender.

The good news is studies have indicated that far from destroying friendships and relationships, digital devices can also sustain them.

The virtual communities we choose to connect with reinforce our sense of self, provide validation, and can erase differences that might hinder this in real life.

And what about the joy, support, shock, sadness, shared sense of purpose that can come from something as simple as participating - from your home, no less - in social media during The Bachelor, the shambolic politics of last week, finding a missing child or pet, expressing grief when a loved one dies, or donating to a good cause?

We bridge distance, time zones and more.

While it's true people say things they wouldn't normally in a text or post (the disinhibition effect), bully, engage in clicktavism and "like" posts without genuinely engaging, or misuse technology, this isn't the fault of the device but the people using it.

Therefore, it's important we instil rules, laws and etiquette on their use and some self-discipline.

And remember to reclaim face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversation. After all, we need to do more than merely digitally "connect" with those we really love.

Karen Brooks is a Courier-Mail columnist.



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