The other day, as my hubby and I sat staring at the glow from our PDAs, we attempted a conversation about the latest news happenings, only to discover that we were both sourcing the same article on Huff Post. A second attempt landed a similar result, only this time the source was a New York Times article. A third attempt was called off, and we, instead, resumed our online wanderings with only the click of the trackball and the slide of the finger across the touchscreen punctuating the silence.
Welcome to Conversation 2011.
With so much information at our fingertips, we are constantly grabbing little bits of facts and cramming them into our heads, only to instantly regurgitate them to each other. Information becomes circular, and pretty soon you hear that same cool factoid that you'd just read spilling out of the mouth of someone else, or see it in someone's Twitter feed. And sadly, this is what passes for conversation.
When I was in college, taking the liberal arts educational equivalent of circuit training - with classes in philosophy, history, literature, science, math, and religion - I remember conversations that lasted from noon to night-time. We talked about everything and in every way. Sure, we had hours of classroom lectures and hundreds of pages of textbooks to draw upon, but our discussions were more than just spitting out what we had memorized. We digested and played with the facts that we learned, exploding them and creating new worlds of meaning and possibility.
That's all changed, and not just because of the passage of a couple of decades. Our entire experience of information has been forever altered by the technological leaps that continue to transform how we access information. We see so much so fast that it's like Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory! We've become great generalists who can quote lots of little things about lots and lots of things, all without a depth and a connection to the subject matter. We are familiar with things, but we don't know them.
The quality of our conversations, then, becomes a casualty. So I'm on a mission to restore the art of conversation to its former glory. First, I've got to get some basic training under my belt. That's right - back to reading one book a week, reading the daily newspaper cover to cover, and avoiding the snack time served up on one of those news aggregator sites. I'll steer clear of CNN Headline News and spend a little quality time with C-SPAN. While I may not be able to go cold turkey on "The Today Show", I'll limit my viewing to thirty minutes and will read more background pieces on the topics that the show covers.
The second component to this basic training is creating better opportunities for conversation, which means scheduling brunches and dinners with people. This one's a bit tricky, but I'll take it on. Sitting down at a meal takes people away from those distractions that interfere with great conversations, and, untethered from your PDAs, you may even find the space to flex those mental muscles! Of course, there's the danger that, once at table with these people, you find that you have nothing to say to each other. But you can always pull out your iPhones and compare apps, if need be - just think of your phone like one of those "break glass in case of emergency" boxes! I'm just saying:)