In the last few years, the written word has gained increasing importance in how we connect and communicate with people. As we rely on writing over speaking because we all have come to hate phone calls because… reasons. And because we also don’t live in a TV world where friends decide to meet up to chat about the most mundane and vital of topics, we are left with text messages, instant messaging, emails, etc. The problem is we can be terrible at saying what we mean.
(Image: Keflavik Airport, Iceland. Its contrast to my post struck me.)
A few years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the lack of interactive and thoughtful discourse (part one & part two). I’ve been thinking about this topic again recently as I’ve watched the ability to have rational conversation deteriorate in America with little visible hope that our behavior will change in the near future. We recoil any time we hear or read something that conflicts with our worldviews. Instead of pausing to absorb the message we took in and understand where that person or group is coming from, the new “proper” response is to lash out and tell them why they are wrong. How dare someone disagree with me!
As I broke from some blog cleanup and preparation for an article or two, I came across a Google+ post and discussion thread about phone calls. If you read these two threads, you’ll discover a sentiment that they may in fact be the worst thing mankind has ever had to deal with. Read the threads for yourselves:
It got me wondering: is talking on the phone really that bad? And if so, why?
This weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying a variety of single malt Scotch from my collection, as seen on the left, with a friend after a long work week. You know it’s a good night when the Chivas 12 year blended Scotch is the one with the “most bite” of everything you’ve had. Standards were set high when you start with Royal Lachnagar Select Reserve.
As my friend and I went from one Scotch to the next discussing nuances and characteristics of each bottle’s contents, our conversation flowed from the drinks before us to fun stories with our coworkers to more serious topics and things about ourselves we rarely have a chance to discuss in the midst of a work week at the office. But there was one thing we both agreed upon in the midst of our conversation: a lot of people today don’t do conversation right.
I’ve touched upon this topic a few times in the past in various posts. In fact, I’m realizing the topics of relationship and interpersonal communication are a growing trend on this blog. The fact of the matter is still true and others are finding the same thing. Having an honest to goodness conversation where the other person actually hears what you’re saying and responds to it in a manner where you know they understood you is slowly becoming a lost skill. Instead, we have our response ready for when the other person stops talking and too frequently it’s not a response to what you just heard.
There’s always something about a good drink, especially a nice single malt Scotch, that can fuel a good time and good conversation. I look forward to more of both in the near future.
Pictured (Top: Lagavulin 16 year, Royal Lachnagar Select Reserve;Middle: Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams 2011, Glenfiddich 15 year; Bottom: Oban 14 year, MacAllan 18 year, Chivas Regal 12 year)
In a recent blog post, I began sharing some thoughts on challenges and the lack of depth present in our communication. I’d like to share more on this topic and maybe even open up a dialog here on how we can work to improve how we interact with one another.
It’s a two-way street, people. One of my growing frustrations with “conversations” is how infrequently we’re able to have them in a manner that hasn’t devolved to mere statements of information about your life. I’ve overheard and been part of so many chats with friends that are comprised of one-off statements that have typically have little to no connection to what was just said. Person A says, “I was thinking about trying out this new burger place this week.” Person B replies, “That’s cool. I went for a 3 mile run last night. Man, it was tough, but felt really great to finish it.” I’m saddened that we are so focused on getting our thought out that we don’t even process or acknowledge what our friend is trying to share.
What would be so difficult about Person B pausing to ask about this burger place and why his friend wants to go there before changing topics and talking about his run? Honestly, very little at the surface. However, what it requires is that you put your own needs aside for a second and engage in what interests your friend. Who knows, if you stop to learn more about what your friend is sharing, you may find that it actually interests you too! What’s the lesson here? Listen to people once in a while. Ask questions that clarify and confirm that you hear what’s being said. You may also find a level of depth in others that may surprise and delight you. There’s a lot more to people than they’re willing to let on until they’re asked a couple simple questions.
Is there an echo? A bigger challenge in finding enjoyable and thoughtful discourse with others is watching and listening to people talking about stuff they read online or see on TV without a thought to call their own. Call it The Echo Effect. Most frequently I see this effect take hold in the tech world, mostly because that’s where I spend a lot of my time and energy. Countless blogs and Twitter accounts find one piece of news, post about it and all link back to the original source or link to one of the other “news” blogs. I’m pretty convinced that if you were to remove all content that duplicated the original source, you could save over 50% of that vast wealth of information on the Internet. We don’t need more parrots echoing what’s still ringing in my ear from 3 days ago.
I don’t want regurgitated data; I want analysis and interpretation and a fresh perspective. I want to see us be capable of have meaningful conversation about politics, tech, culture, religion, and whatever you want to talk about. I want us to have original thought. The next time some news article or TV show catches your eye and you want to share it with me, be prepared to tell me why it caught your eye. What resonated with you, whether it be positive or negative? What kind of impact do you think it will have your life? Or mine? Or on the surrounding culture?
So what can we can take away from my ramblings? Here’s the bulleted version for the article skimmers:
- Listen to people.
- Ask questions of others. Don’t just talk about yourself.
- Analyze the information you take in. Have your own thoughts! Don’t just repeat it to others. You’re not helping anybody.
We don’t have time to waste babbling on about nothing. Let’s make our time interacting and conversing worthwhile to both of us. I hope you join me in wanting and practicing interactive and thoughtful discourse.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
Warning: this post is somewhat lengthy. I hope you can hold your attention for long enough and that it mostly makes sense.
A couple weekends ago, I met up with a friend for dinner and drinks to catch up I hadn’t seen in a while. Over the course of the evening, conversation ran the course of the normal “what’s new with you?”, “how’s the job?”, and “any new projects around the house?” These are all usually pretty safe topics for people to discuss, usually without the need to expose yourself to anything beyond the surface or that require much pause for thought before opening our mouths.
However, the bigger challenge facing our friendships and relationships with people relates to our ability to have real conversation. All too frequently our communication with one another, whether it be in person or online, deteriorates into meaningless chatter. The worst part of it is most of us don’t notice or simply don’t care that in the middle of all this noise, nobody’s really saying anything at all. If there is anything being said, how much of the content is only about yourself? How often do you find yourself asking your friends questions about anything?
Interactive and thoughtful discourse is lost on us. We turn our “conversations” with one another into a handful of categories, such as:
- Let me tell you about myself and I don’t really care what you think of it unless you like it/agree with it
- Let me tell you about what I heard on TV/read online
- Let me try to one-up you with my incredible wit and really funny insights into the world. Likely I’ll be posting these things on Facebook and Twitter, too. Please like everything I say and do on FB, BTW. Thx!
There is plenty of evidence to show our American culture has been pretty self-centered for a really long time and more anecdotal proof arrives by the truckload daily. What of social media’s place? Isn’t it supposed to connect us in ways we never imagined? I’m a fan of the services out there as much as the next guy, but take a step back and ask yourself “why do I share what I share online?” If we all admit it to ourselves, we all want some level of attention. Connecting with friends is a great cover letter for social networking’s initial purposes, but we all know there’s a little “look at me” component. And maybe a little bit of that is OK. Moderation in everything, right? At least that’s how the phrase goes.
I think part of the problem lies in the mediums we use to communicate. (This is where part of the conversation with my friend starts to come into play.) Our conversation turned to how infrequently our interactions with each other mentally stimulate us now. My friend “C” was telling me how he had this really engaging chat over a few hours about his friend’s business idea. When you come away from a conversation energized, you know you actually got your mind – and depending on the topic, maybe your heart – connected to what was going on. If we don’t feel anything, why are we wasting our time on it in the first place?
So C and I continued our chat and lamented a bit about the lack of genuineness in social network interactions like those on Facebook and Twitter. We debated possible reasons for this. For me, one of the primary drivers is that both platforms ultimately don’t allow the space for depth. This shouldn’t be a surprise on Twitter. Really, how deep can you get with 140 characters? And while Facebook’s platform gives you more characters for updates and that “personal” space to share with friends, your profile turns into quick sound bytes and quips about topics that rarely give much insight into who you truly are, especially when you have a larger and larger friend list that makes you feel like you’re yelling into an already overcrowded room. We’ve lost the ability to communicate quietly but with true depth and instead only know how to barely stand in the shallow end of the pool.
In a future post, I will continue to share my thoughts on conversational styles, discourse on topics, and more. Thanks for making it this far. Perhaps you’ll come back for Part 2.