Restoring the lost art of conversation – what a sweetly quaint idea 🙂 In the world of texts, tweets and emails, this piece from BBC News suggests conversation is on its way out. Social commentators is they often have a narrow frame of reference. After all, how much ‘conversation’ was ever meaningful in the first place?
Maybe we haven’t ‘lost’ anything. Maybe it’s just got replaced. Blogging is an alternative conversation, albeit to an audience of two and a cat. A tweet is still a voice, albeit speaking to no one in particular. Times are changing. They always have. The power of words is their existence more than their mode of delivery. We recall the song not the singer, the lines from a poem, not the poet. It’s the words that matter. Conversation has always been elusive. Pinning it down on paper or screen has a value of its own.
In the BBC piece Professor Sherry Turkle warns of the danger of losing the power of speech as we once understood it. This is where my analogue roots are useful. I remember Turkle’s enthusiasm about MOOs and MUDs in the dark ages of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) via America Online and CompuServe. When digital communication was freed from barriers of clocks and geography.
This was hypereality. Experimentation with alternative ways of being. It was the time for reconsidering traditional, unitary concepts of identity. Step aside for postmodernism. Nothing reinforces a PM world like the internet. It’s such a shame the timing wasn’t better. Imagine Barthes and Baurdrillard on Twitter! The internet had no limits. Physical barriers were being dissolved and simulation was offered on a global scale. Adopting the ‘other’ opened the brave new world of Dona Haraway’s cyborg manifesto. These were exciting times because they were new. We’re all more cynical now.
Today being anything ‘other’ online risks the wrong kind of attention. Digital media has become the crucible of egocentricism but it’s no different from the me, me, me of face-to-face conversation. Online our thoughts, comments, observations can be put out safely with no arched eyebrows, frowning brows or tightening mouth to indicate disapproval or boredom. It’s easy. What’s not to like? The internet is where Christopher Lasch and Neil Postman collide.The egotistic personality is amusing everyone else to death.
Thinking abut the early forums in the 90’s reminds me of a story of an academic who wanted to discuss their research with a colleague 9,000 miles away but the chat forum for their topic got crowded and argumentative so they arranged to meet in American Patchwork Quilts instead. It was usually empty and here their conversations on theoretical quantum physics could continue uninterrupted.
Times are changing. Maybe it’s less about relearning conversation and more about learning how to talk online effectively instead.