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The Lost Art of Conversation

November 13, 2015


    With the holidays rapidly approaching, we will be spending time conversing with family members and filling them in on how things have gone this past year.  (For some, this could be absolutely dreadful; I know people that actually travel so they don’t have to see their family.  Shout out to my family, I’ll see y’all for Christmas!)  Because of that, I decided to focus on the art of conversation and how our inability to use technology properly has hampered our ability to interact with one another.  Since I teach the art of communication, plus run three social media accounts for a local high school, I am fascinated by how my brain constantly battles the balance to stay plugged into the world of social media, while also realizing the value of face-to-face conversation and how fruitful the experience can be.

    At one point or another, most of us have been distracted with our phones while interacting with someone.  Flashgap, a photo-sharing app, decided to conduct a survey to get a better idea of this growing problem.  The results weren’t that surprising: “In a survey of 3,000 Millennials, 87% admitted to missing out on a conversation because they were distracted by their phones.” I actually think that percentage is a bit low, but the thing is, Millennials aren’t the only ones distracted by technology: 

“According to a Pew Research Center study on cell phone etiquette published in August, more than 77% of adults 30 to 49 surveyed said it’s OK to use a phone while walking down the street, riding public transportation or waiting in line.”

   Basically, that survey just described the new AT&T and DirecTV commercial. (This constant connectedness makes me nervous for humanity.) 


Both of these statistics came from a simple, yet practical article from USA Today. From that same Pew Research survey, over 80% of the adults recognize that technology in social gatherings hurt conversation, yet they still engage with it.  That’s what confuses me about humanity.  We know things are bad for us, or take away from an experience, but some of us don’t make any changes. 

    In an experiment done by Virginia Tech University, dubbed “The iPhone Effect,” they found that conversations without technology (basically when an iPhone or iPad was not on the table or in someone’s hand) were rated as significantly more interactive compared to those with technology.  Again, not that surprising, but even with this knowledge, people still interact with technology, or have it present, while conversing. 

            All of this takes away from our ability to feel empathy for others.  Sherry Turkle, who is a renowned media scholar, just published a book titled, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.  She reinforces the notion that empathy and self-reflection are lost while looking down at our screens. “The easy, streamlined, emotionally risk-free technologies that entertain and keep people ‘in touch’ without human interaction have diminished our capacity for empathy and self-reflection.”  This makes sense, because when we communicate through technology, we lose out on nonverbal communication (minus emojis or GIFS) and also the tone and volume of verbal communication.  Our ability to listen is being tested; furthermore, with technology becoming more and more present in our lives, actively listening in a conversation takes on an even larger significance, and those that can listen well will have a sizable advantage in 2015 and beyond. 

            So as we round out the rest of the year, let’s remember to look up from our cell phones and tablets and enjoy the people and human experience that is conversation.  As Turkle so appropriately states: “Face-to-face conversation is the most human and humanizing thing we do. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard and understood.”


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