The Flight Back to Conversation

If a smile is the first currency exchanged in a potential relationship, think about where actual words might take you. And then think about what is robbing you of the joy of conversation.

I last wrote about missed connections and people who were seeking to find strangers they wished they’d spoken to when they spotted them in public. Most of them simply exchanged a smile, and yet the smile had stayed in the memory of one party, who was now desperately seeking the other. I hope they connected. And began conversations.

If there are perhaps five people on the planet who are not talking about and sharing Sherry Turkle’s New York Times article, The Flight from Conversation, I hope those five people are reading this. Because we should all read the article, watch the TED talk, and then get on with walking the talk.

Or rather we should all get on with talking. In person. With other people. Live. Un-aided by technological devices. Good old-fashioned conversation.

One of my nearest and dearest had a life goal at one time to learn to make small talk. And that’s not a bad goal, actually, although I’d conjecture that to end there would be a shame. And I’ll add that the person who wanted to learn that skill has indeed moved on to rather witty repartee and a broad fund of knowledge about which he can talk extensively (though he doesn’t unless called upon, which reminds me of the joke that asks what the definition of a gentleman is. The answer? Someone who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.)

Are we losing the ability or the desire to converse? Do we prefer the company of a smartphone to a person? How strange is it that many people sleep with their iPhones, even with a partner in bed? Actually sleeping with an iPhone alone doesn’t have any particular warm-me-up factor either does it?

I (or you) could write a thousand blogposts about this topic and not exhaust the questions or the quandaries. And do we not have great ambivalence about the beauty of staying connected to people whom we wouldn’t be in touch with without technology while — at the same time — bemoaning the fact that we are losing the art of conversation and letting sustained eye contact fade off as a regular practice?

Here are a few steps (baby steps and giant steps) I’m contemplating because I see my own Pavlovian urges to connect technologically o-f-t-e-n:

  • Entirely ignoring my texts, calls, emails until I’ve started my day with my preferred practices of prayer and exercise
  • Using time spent in lines or on public transportation to — gasp! — look around, pay attention, focus on what’s around me and be open to some of the people who may be ready to smile or talk in my direction (see paragraphs one and two above)
  • Wearing a watch again so I won’t need to look at my phone to check the time
  • Pausing and waiting without a whiff of passive-aggressive heavy breathing while others check their phones mid-conversation — just letting them choose where to pay attention without passing judgment on it as if I never do it
  • Asking more “essay questions” of people; I’m trying to break the habit of asking multiple choice questions as if my possible answers were the likely ones. How do I know what someone wants to say until I listen?
  • Using an alarm clock instead of my iPhone to wake me up, so the phone doesn’t need to be anywhere near my bedroom
  • “Fasting” two days a week from email
Those are mostly practices of abstaining. And to them I’d like to add more thoughtful, in-person connections, deep philosophical meanderings or simply small talk. It doesn’t matter. The joy is in the connection.


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